Pancreatic cancer remains one of the deadliest forms of cancer despite decades of research. Most patients do not experience a lasting response to treatment. However, the positive, inspirational results of a clinical trial conducted at Providence Cancer Institute – first in the world and made possible by generous donors – are being shared around the globe.

Kathy Wilkes of Florida had metastatic pancreatic cancer and read online about the research of Eric Tran, Ph.D., on immunotherapy – harnessing the body’s immune system to find and kill cancer cells. She located Dr. Tran at Providence Cancer Institute and gave him a call.

Kathy’s phone call turned into a single-patient clinical trial testing a type of immunotherapy called adoptive cell therapy. In the specialized adoptive cell therapy lab at Providence Cancer Institute, Dr. Tran extracted T cells from Kathy’s blood and genetically enhanced them to express a special T cell receptor. The enhanced T cells were expanded into the billions and given back to Kathy by intravenous infusion.

The hope was that the added receptor would enable T cells to better detect and kill the cancer cells. One month after the infusion, Kathy’s tumors shrank by 62%. Within six months, the tumors had shrunk by 72%.

This groundbreaking case of treating pancreatic cancer using T cell receptor therapy was detailed by Dr. Tran and co-researcher Rom Leidner, M.D., and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s most respected medical journals. The journal article and Kathy’s success story received international media attention.


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