An innovative and experimental cancer treatment has given a young father a new lease on life.
Marshall Jensen, 30, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2012. The particularly aggressive form of leukemia didn’t respond to chemotherapy treatments, and Jensen and his wife started fearing the worst. At one point, Jensen’s goal was simply to make it to his 30th birthday.
Then, after months of research, Jensen discovered Dr. Carl June and his crew of researchers at Penn Medicine. Jensen learned that Dr. June was experimenting with a controversial, but so far successful, treatment for people with leukemia.
The treatment, which sounds counterintuitive at first, involves injecting the HIV virus into a patient’s body.
"It's a disabled virus," June tells KSL. "But it retains the one essential feature of HIV, which is the ability to insert new genes into cells.”
For the treatment, billions of T-cells are taken from a patient’s body and injected with the disabled form of the HIV virus. The cells, armed with the virus, are now specifically designed to target and kill cancer cells. They are then injected back into the patient’s body.
For Jensen, the therapy was a lifesaver – literally. Within a few months, the seemingly impossible happened: he was cancer-free.
"It felt right; and we didn't know how we were going to get out there, what we were going to do, but it worked,” Jensen told KSL. “By God's grace I was able to come back."
The altered T-cells will remain dormant in Jensen’s body unless new cancer cells pop up. If that happens, the T-cells will eradicate the outbreak.
As of now, Dr. June’s therapy is only designed to fight leukemia. He begins new research this year to engineer the treatment to combat other cancers as well.