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OU Health announces successful treatment against leukemia in Oklahoma Children's Hospital patient

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Ryan VanZandt

Ryan VanZandt and Dr. Rikin Shah pose at the Oklahoma Children's Hospital. 

OU Health announced a successful treatment against leukemia for an Oklahoma Children’s Hospital patient in a press release.

According to the press release, Southeastern Oklahoma State University student Ryan VanZandt — who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2015 — has been in remission since he received Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy in May, which is “a new treatment for blood cancers in which patient’s own immune cells are genetically modified to recognize and attack cancer cells.”

“This revolutionary new treatment successfully eliminated Ryan’s leukemia, and it did so by attacking only the cancer cells, not the normal cells in his body,” said Rikin Shah, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital interim director of pediatric transplantation and cellular therapy at the Jimmy Everest Center. “This treatment is changing the landscape of pediatric cancer treatment because it is giving an opportunity for survival for those patients who had run out of treatment options.”

CAR-T gave a second opportunity to VanZandt, who had a second relapse of lymphoblastic leukemia in May 2019 despite his chemotherapy treatments. According to the release, he was able to get the therapy in Oklahoma, without the additional burden of housing and traveling expenses. 

“The success rate of treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia with chemotherapy in young people is usually very high. The problem is that when patients have a recurrence, the outcomes are dismal,” Shah said in the release. “That’s why CAR-T is so important – because it allows us to help patients whose cancer would otherwise be deemed incurable.”

The release said CAR-T therapy has cleared VanZandt’s body of cancerous cells, yet the treatment is not over. He will have “a bone marrow transplant from his sister Savannah, who is a perfect match for the donation of a brand-new immune system.” Shah said CAR-T allowed them to put VanZandt’s leukemia “into remission” so he could have a transplant.

Although CAR-T continues to be studied, it will be used earlier in the patient’s treatment process or on those whose bone marrow transplants fail. However, Shah said in the release the treatment will change how cancer is treated in the next five years “because we are harnessing the patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer.”

According to the release, VanZandt’s mother, Bylynn VanZandt, was nervous about CAR-T but said she was willing to try new treatments that could make the transplant possible for him.

“It’s definitely been a long journey,” Ryan VanZandt said in the release. “All my friends and family have kept my spirits up. This has given me a new perspective on life, especially to value the people who have cared for and supported me.”

Marien López-Medina is an international student and United World Colleges alumna from Nicaragua. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in public and nonprofit administration and works as a news reporter for The Daily.

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