Joe Lao, 23, was a college freshman suffering from Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) Positive recurrent Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he turned to Mitchell Cairo, MD, the Chief of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) for treatment after previous treatments failed.
In his lab, Dr. Cairo and his team are currently engaged in numerous research efforts to combat cancer via cutting-edge immunological approaches. The lab is working at identifying genetic abnormalities in leukemia cases, investigating antibodies and cell engagers in malignancies, and developing “cellular” strategies – such as the use of stem cells to help treat cancers, as well as a variety of genetic diseases.
Following a round of intensive chemotherapy, Dr. Cairo collected Lao’s stem cells during remission and returned them to his body after chemotherapy to help him make healthy blood cells. Then Lao received stem cells from an unrelated healthy donor—essentially replacing Lao’s immune system with the donor’s. Following this donor stem cell transplant, Lao received donor-derived, genetically-engineered cells that attacked the remaining EBV positive Hodgkin Lymphoma cells. Lao has been cancer-free for three years.
Patients like Lao are living proof that these personalized approaches are working – and helping to give cancer survivors their lives back. Having returned to his life as a student and drag racer, Lao reflects, “I don’t take feeling good – or being able to go to work – for granted anymore. Because of this state-of-the-art treatment, I am feeling like myself again.”