Foster, 65, a physician with a private practice in the Southern Tier, discussed with local reporters his experience of being in a landmark clinical study. (See box to the right.) Foster spent the past month in Rochester, mostly in the Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit at Wilmot. For a week, including Easter Sunday, Foster was moved to the ICU at Strong Memorial Hospital, where specially trained doctors and nurses managed the temporary but serious side effects that are known to accompany this type of experimental therapy.
“When I became ill a year ago, I made a determination to surrender myself to the process. I wasn’t going to be the physician; I was going to be the patient,” Foster said. “I went into this with confidence.” Now, “I feel fabulous,” he added.
Foster has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma that was resistant to standard treatment with chemotherapy. As his disease progressed, Wilmot was selected to be among the first 16 institutions to take part in a national study sponsored by Kite Pharma, to evaluate CAR T-cell therapy, which uses a patient’s own modified immune cells to attack cancer.
CAR T-cell therapy was originally studied as a treatment for leukemia, and now is being evaluated in patients with lymphoma and other cancers.
Foster and his wife, Hanna, said they’re grateful for the opportunity to “ride this wave” and receive such innovative care in upstate New York. “I’ve said this before, but I met the right people, at the right time, at the right institution,” Foster said.
The CAR T-cell study has strict eligibility criteria and Wilmot’s participation is limited to a small number of patients. However, a second patient—a young woman also from the Finger Lakes region—has been identified as a potential candidate for the future.
Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director of the Wilmot Cancer Institute, is the principal investigator for the trial, and Patrick Reagan, M.D., is Foster’s oncologist. In addition, Michael Apolstolakos, M.D., chief of Adult Critical Care at UR Medicine, led the team that cared for Foster in the ICU.
“Whenever you’re doing something for the first time there certainly is a learning curve,” Reagan said. “But the fact that we started preparing very early and we involved other services…that made things go as seamlessly as they could.”
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