Dr. Woodrin Wright studies telomeres – the part of our DNA that determines aging. It’s also involved in some cancers.
It seems like a cruel irony then that Dr. Wright faced multiple myeloma during his studies. And it started with something as simple as a sneeze. Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Wright’s story, or follow along at the original source here.
A sneeze. That’s where Dr. Wright’s battle with cancer begins. Many people find sneezing to be irritating. Few people would classify it as dangerous. This sneeze, however, broke one of Dr. Wright’s vertebrae.
Dr. Wright suffered from multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma primarily affects white blood cells in the body’s immune system. Over time, the cancer results in weakened bones. This explains how the sneeze was able to cause such damage.
Doctors began treating Dr. Wright with traditional chemotherapy. When his cancer developed a resistance to the first chemotherapy they tried a second. Then they tried a third. And so on.
“My myeloma cells went through the Darwinian selection of 11 chemotherapies, becoming resistant to them all. Basically, I was at the end of my rope,” says Dr. Wright.
Fortunately, Dr. Wright continues, a professional colleague brought him some hope. Dr. Wright’s colleague also specialized in telomere research, and notified Wright of a clinical trial. The trial would begin soon, and all Wright had to do was hold on until then.
Dr. Wright joined a list for the clinical trial that would use a new CAR-T therapy. The novelty of CAR-T (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy) stems from the fact that it is a “living drug.”
In the first step of CAR-T therapy, specialists gather an immune cell (known as a T-cell) from the patient’s blood. Next, the T-cells are modified through lab processes to recognize cancer cells as “enemy” cells. Afterwards, the modified T-Cells are reintroduced tot he patient’s body.
When Dr. Wright enrolled for the trial, his condition was described as nearly critical. Two other patients held spots ahead of Wright’s. Both, however, dropped out. Dr. Wright became the first multiple myeloma patient to receive CAR-T therapy as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s clinical trial.
Dr. Wright Didn’t even think about hesitating. “I was all in,” he says. “There were risks but I had basically run out of options. I know enough immunology to understand what they were trying to do and I thought it had a good chance of success.”
The predicted risks, however, became real problems. Researchers designed the clinical trial such that patients received their CAR-T cells in three doses. Dr. Wright received the first dose without adverse incident. The second dose, on the other hand, presented a problem. In some respect, the therapy worked too well. The CAR-T cells ferociously fought the cancer. But Wright’s body contained a massive number of cancer cells. The resulting immune response put Wright in a hospital for two weeks.
Even through this difficulty, the cancer cells were being defeated. When the dust settled, and the worst of it was over, Wright’s light-chain numbers (an indicator of cancer) were greatly reduced. The numbers dropped from 6,725 to a shocking 5. Two years after treatment, Dr. Wright continues life free of cancer.
Dr. Wright returned to the lab after his “sustained complete remission.” He continues to work on telomere research, and is hopeful that what he discovers may enhance the effectiveness of CAR-T treatment.