Emily Whitehead was the first pediatric patient in the world to receive T-Cell Therapy. The therapy had never before been tried on a child or in the specific type of leukemia that Emily had.

“She [Emily] is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.”

Denise Grady, The New York Times, “In Girl’s Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia”, December 9, 2012

Watch the 3-minute documentary “Fire with Fire” that highlights the T-Cell Therapy and Emily’s recovery.

What is T-Cell Therapy?

T-Cell Therapy is a new treatment for some types of childhood cancer developed by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania. It is a type of Immunotherapy that uses our bodies’ own immune cells to kill cancer cells without the harsh effects of chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment process usually involves three steps:

  1. T-cells (a type of white blood cell) are removed from the patient’s blood.
  2. In the laboratory, the T-cells are genetically engineered or “trained” to recognize and kill cancer cells.
  3. These modified T-cells are infused back into the patient where they multiply rapidly, seek out, and destroy cancer cells.

Early results from clinical trials have been extremely promising with 93% of pediatric patients with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) achieving remission (1).

(1) Grupp SA, Maude SL, Shaw PA, et al. Durable Remissions in Children with Relapsed/Refractory ALL Treated with T Cells Engineered with a CD19-Targeted Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CTL019). Presented at: 57th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting; Orlando, Florida; December 5-8, 2015. Abstract 681.

Where is the T-Cell Therapy clinical trial available?

Emily was enrolled in the T-Cell Therapy clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) but the trial has now expanded to other children’s hospitals in the United States and in Canada, Australia, Norway, and Belgium. Please click here to see the list of hospitals and contacts.

Are all T-Cell Therapy clinical trials the same?

Other T-Cell Therapy clinical trials are available that use a different process of reprogramming the t-cells. The specific clinical trial that Emily was enrolled in is called CTL019 and was developed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania. It is important to discuss with your doctor the differences among t-cell therapies that are available at other hospitals because they may not work the same.

How can I get my child in this clinical trial?

Please contact the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) or one of the hospitals listed here. We cannot contact the hospitals for you or provide specific contact information for the doctors or researchers involved in the trial.

My child will be getting T-Cell Therapy – can we connect with you or other T-cell families?

Yes – please get in touch with us using the contact form and we can connect you with other families and add you to our support group.

Is T-Cell Therapy available for other types of childhood cancer?

The T-cell therapy is currently available for some types of leukemia and lymphoma and possibly other cancers. To find out if the therapy is available for your type of cancer, please contact the CHOP Cancer Immunotherapy Program.

Is T-Cell Therapy available for adults?

Please contact Penn Medicine / University of Pennsylvania for the adult T-Cell Therapy clinical trial.

“We believe in raising funds for T-Cell Therapy research because this treatment is less toxic than chemotherapy or radiation. It is a gentler approach to treating childhood cancer which is greatly needed because children have to live with the harsh side effects of standard treatments for much longer than do adults. As parents, our hope is that eventually this therapy can be used earlier in treatment for childhood cancer to reduce the need for chemotherapy and radiation.”
– Tom and Kari Whitehead