Q&A: The Promise of T-Cell Therapy

BollardIn 2014, Children’s National treated its first patients using “T-cell therapy,” a revolutionary approach to destroying cancer cells using a patient’s own cells. Dr. Catherine Bollard, who oversees the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy (CETI) at Children’s National, explains what makes this treatment so different – and so promising for children with cancer and other diseases.

Q. What is T-cell therapy?

A. T-cell therapy is the ultimate personalized therapy to fight dangerous viruses and cancer cells. We take blood from the patient and then “train” the T-cells to kill the cancer. Once the T-cells are ready, they are injected back into the patient, where they can travel throughout the body to seek out, find, and destroy the cancer cells.

Q. What are the biggest benefits of T-cell therapy?

A. Chemotherapy and radiation can kill cancer cells, but they also damage healthy tissues and the body’s ability to fight off infection. T-cell therapy tackles the immediate problem and also aims to protect patients for the rest of their lives.

Q. Does T-cell therapy work?

A. Yes. Cell therapies have a response rate of more than 80 percent for successfully preventing or treating life-threatening infections after bone marrow transplant. We have an astounding 50 percent disease-free survival rate at two years for some cancer patients with the poorest prognoses, including patients who have failed all other therapies.

Q. What makes Children’s National’s effort in researching T-cell therapy unique?

A. Children’s National is one of the few hospitals in the world to offer cellular therapy to treat life-threatening infections in patients with immune deficiencies, as well as preventing or treating relapse in children with cancer.

Q. What special equipment do you need to train T-cells?

A. To grow these highly specialized cells, we’ve created a state-of-the-art good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility. The new GMP unit at Children’s National is unique – it’s the only standalone GMP facility in a pediatric hospital that processes stem cells for transplant and also manufactures these novel cell therapeutics.

Q. What are your team’s future plans to advance T-cell therapy?

A. The CETI team continues to train some T-cells to fight viruses and to teach others to target cancer cells, such as leukemias and lymphomas. We are also developing cell therapies to fight any type of inflammation. For example, a study will launch this year to investigate applications for children suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. The team is also building a bank of trained T-cells, with the goal of matching and deploying them to children who can benefit. This resource will allow CETI to be a fast and viable option for all children who may need this promising new therapy.

Q. What inspired you personally to do this kind of work?

A. A friend of mine, Diana, was 17 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. Sadly, at that time in 1985, her only treatment options were numerous rounds of highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It took her about four years to reach a durable and complete remission. She was finally at a point when she felt she could move on and live her life.

However, tragically, only four months after marrying a wonderful man, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which was a devastating side effect from the chemotherapy and radiation she had received for her lymphoma treatment. She died at age 24, only four months after the diagnosis. At that time I made it my focus to develop new cancer therapies that would only kill the cancer cells, not the healthy cells, and that would not cause the devastating side effects that my friend suffered.

New Year, New Life for Girl with New Heart

2014 08 14 Berlin HeartDoctors, nurses, and staff at Children’s National have grown to love a young patient who waited for more than a year for a new heart. Teresa, age 2, had a heart that was structurally normal, but began failing in early 2014. Doctors kept her alive with a Berlin heart, a mechanical organ that sat atop her belly, quietly whirling and squeezing to pump blood through her system.

She was also attached to a large console that needed to be wheeled with her wherever she went. As she waited for a heart to become available for a transplant, she risked complications like stroke and pump failure. But she was an inspiration to everyone who met her. She would walk the hallways, smiling and waving to guests, sometimes offering to share her baby doll. She brought joy to the entire unit. But as days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and no donor was found, the staff worried about how long she had left to live.

Everything changed over the December holidays, when a heart finally became available, and our cardiac intensive care team performed the urgent and complicated operation. Early Christmas morning, multiple teams rallied from around the region and within the hospital to come to the girl’s aid. It takes multiple complex teams to orchestrate a transplant. Some travel long distances to retrieve the heart, while others prepare the patient. In this case there were additional requirements for experts because she was on a pump. Clinicians left their families and rushed to the hospital to make a miracle happen.

The operation was successful! The team members were able to be part of the best holiday gift ever — the gift of life. The little girl spent a peaceful night in the cardiac intensive care unit, sleeping, with her new heart working just fine. Today, she is doing well, off the ventilator and machines, and asking for apple juice.

This happy ending would not have been possible without the bravery and persistence of the little girl and her family, the expertise and devotion of our clinical and administrative teams, the courage of the donor family to give the gift of life, and generous donors who help Children’s National provide the highest level of care.

Washington Capitals Continue Tradition with Holiday Visit

caps1The Washington Capitals continued their tradition of hospital visits on Dec. 12, making a special trip to bring holiday cheer and pass out blankets as part of the NHL’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” initiative. The visit was planned in partnership with Hope for Henry, which creates special experiences for children at Children’s National and other hospitals. Thanks to Brooks Laich, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters, and Jack Hillen, as well as alum and broadcaster Alan May, goalie coach Mitch Korn, the Red Rockers, and Slapshot. See more photos.

Family “Pays It Forward” After Receiving Support from Children’s National

family_2For Mamie and Shawn Moses, 2010 was a challenging year. Shawn’s employer had to downsize, leaving their employees jobless. Luckily, Shawn got a new job with the Department of State, and eventually, the family relocated from Michigan to Maryland. Although Shawn had a decent job, he and his wife were struggling to put food on the table for their sons, 11-year-old Silas and 3-year-old Gabriel.

That’s when Children’s National stepped in to help. Dr. Chaney, a pulmonologist, was treating Gabriel, who had been diagnosed with Tetrology of Fallot, a rare heart condition, at birth. When she heard that the Moses family was trying to make ends meet, she suggested that Children’s National sponsor the family. Mamie said, “They brought us clothes, toys, and gift cards. We were overwhelmed by the generosity.”

As time has passed, life has gotten better for the Moses family. Gabriel’s condition, while still serious, has improved thanks to the care received at Children’s National, and Mamie has found a new job. In gratitude, this year the Moses family decided to give back by sponsoring another family at Children’s National in need.

“Our hope,” said Mamie, “is that the next family ‘pays it forward’ when they get on their feet.”

Visit by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Inspires Children, Families, and Staff

rockIn town to serve as emcee for the Christmas in Washington concert, which benefits Children’s National, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson visited children in the hospital on Dec. 13. (See more photos.) From babies to teens, children (and adults) of all ages were touched by his generosity, compassion, and humor. One patient beat him in arm wrestling; another read a poem that she had written just for him.

Johnson stops to take a photo with NICU nurses.
Johnson stops to take a photo with NICU nurses.

Posting on his Facebook and Instagram accounts, he noted one particular girl who inspired him: “Every once in a while we meet very special children who teach us about the things that really matter in life – kindness, gratitude, laughs and love. My buddy Katherine was one of many brave children I had the true pleasure of meeting here at Children’s National in Washington, DC. I say it often and I feel it down in my bones – this is by far the best part of my job.”

One of the most popular professional wrestlers of all time, Johnson is among the most successful actors in Hollywood, most recently appearing in “Hercules.” He currently has a reality show on TNT called “Wake Up Call,” in which he helps people turn their lives around to achieve their dreams. Christmas in Washington will air on TNT on Dec. 19 at 8:00 pm. View more photos here.

Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan Spreads Cheer to Kids

Redskins player Ryan Kerrigan visits patients at Children's National on Dec. 9 during the annual "Ryan's Reindeer Rush."
Redskins player Ryan Kerrigan visits patients at Children’s National during the annual “Ryan’s Reindeer Rush.”

Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan surprised patients at Children’s National on Dec. 9, signing autographs, taking pictures, and giving footballs and Redskins collectables to kids and families being treated at Children’s National.

This was Kerrigan’s second visit to the hospital as part of his annual “Ryan’s Reindeer Rush,” a holiday program organized by the Ryan Kerrigan’s Blitz for the Better Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to better the lives of critically and chronically ill and special needs children throughout greater Washington area.

“It feels great to be able to spend a day with these kids and help them get in the holiday spirit,” Kerrigan said. “It’s nice to see the impact we are making through the smiles on their faces. That’s what Blitz for the Better Foundation is all about. We want to give support, not only physically and monetarily, but give a boost to morale as well.”

El Zol Breaks National Fundraising Record for Spanish Radiothons

El Zol 107.9 team unveil the present the check for $858,794 to Children's National. El Zol is now the largest Spanish radiothon in the country.
The El Zol 107.9 team presents the check for $858,794 to Children’s National. El Zol is now the largest Spanish radiothon in the country.

El Zol’s seventh annual radiothon raised a record-breaking $858,794 for Children’s National, a 37 percent increase from last year’s event. The El Zol Radiothon officially broke the record for most raised at a Children’s National radiothon, and the station now holds the title of the largest Spanish radiothon in the country.

The three-day event took place Dec. 4-6 at the main atrium of the hospital, where several patients, families, doctors, and nurses participated in a day filled with inspirational stories.

“We are so proud to partner with the entire El Zol 107.9 family and are grateful for their contribution to ensure that Children’s National can provide the same level of care to all children in our community,” said Megan Summerford, assistant director for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Children’s National. “We look forward to more success in 2015 as El Zol continues on its goal to a $1 million radiothon for the kids.”


A Family Tradition of Holiday Giving

IMG_3205On Saturday morning, Harold and Nancy Zirkin continued a family tradition they started three years ago to bring cheer to kids in the hospital. Each year, the Zirkins, their children, and several of their grandchildren, make a special trip to Child’s Play, a local toy store, and choose the perfect gifts for children. Together, they deliver $10,000 worth of toys to Dr. Bear’s Holiday Toy Shop at Children’s National, where parents and other caregivers select toys for their children, at no charge. During a stressful time when parents may not have time to shop outside the hospital, Santa’s Toy Shop allows them to stay close to their children and celebrate the season.

“I recall driving home from holiday shopping for my grandchildren several years ago and thinking, they already have everything they could possibly need,” Harold said. “But we knew there were so many other children who might not get gifts. We hope that through this tradition, our grandchildren will come to see the joy in giving to others.”

The Zirkins began their partnership with Children’s National over 35 years ago, and Harold is now a member of the investment committee for Children’s National.

Children’s National Named DC’s “Most Powerful Brand”

logoThanks to the support of donors and other supporters, Children’s National is expanding its reach and influence, enabling us to provide the best possible care for every child we serve.

In a ceremony on Dec. 11, the Washington Business Journal named Children’s National Health System as the Most Powerful Brand and its President and CEO, Dr. Kurt Newman, as one of the Most Admired CEOs of 2014 in the Washington metropolitan region. Children’s National was selected as the Most Powerful Brand from among 20 nominees representing well-known business and nonprofit brands throughout Washington, Maryland, and Virginia.

Dr. Newman was recognized among a group of CEOs representing various businesses from finance to healthcare who exhibit the high level of leadership and skill it takes to be a successful CEO. Read more.

Thank you for your role in making Children’s National a world-class institution and supporting our mission to improve the lives of children everywhere.

Easing the Burden for Families Living with Advanced Illness

PANDA PictureMore than 180 participants gathered at Children’s National in November for the annual Joshua Stouck Memorial Pediatric Palliative Care Symposium, which highlighted the importance of relieving the pain and suffering of children living with serious illness.

Sarah Friebert, MD, FAAP, FAAHPM of Akron Children’s Hospital, an international pediatric palliative care pioneer, kicked off the event by discussing the current state of pediatric palliative care and the need for this type of care globally so that children with serious illness can have greater quality of life.

To palliate means to “ease the burden of,” and the PANDA Palliative Care Team at Children’s National works to do this each day by preventing, reducing, and soothing symptoms for children in the advanced stages of illness. The multidisciplinary team of physicians, advanced-practice nurses, social workers, case managers, and therapists provides individualized care and counseling for children and families confronted with serious illnesses.

Through tailored palliative care, which includes but is not exclusive to end-of-life care, the PANDA Palliative Care team works with patients and family members to ease medical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual burdens. They listen carefully to determine and deliver the right care at the right time, provided concurrently with disease-directed therapies.

The symposium included an interactive theater presentation by Theater Delta of Chapel Hill, N.C., on how clinicians can effectively communicate with families in the face of advancing illness, as well as a panel of local community hospice experts who discussed the value of compassionate end-of-life care so that children experience the least amount of suffering possible. Stacy Remke, MSW, LICSW, A CHP-SW, closed the symposium with practical advice on how healthcare providers can care for themselves when faced with the daily challenges of working with patients and families with serious illness.

Jerry Stouck and Mindy Buren made the annual symposium possible by creating the Joshua Stouck Critical Care Endowment to educate care providers about effective communication with parents. It was formed in memory of the Stouck’s late son, Joshua, who passed away when he was 4 years old. In addition to funding the memorial fund, Jerry Stouck co-founded the DC Lawyers’ Golf Tournament, which has raised more than $1 million for critical care medicine at Children’s National.