A Maryland woman who suffered a lengthy battle with stage-three non-Hodgkin lymphoma is now in complete remission after receiving a promising new treatment that uses a patient's own cells to fight cancer.
Daisy Diggs, 67, is the first patient to do the CAR-T cell procedure at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as part of a clinical trial.
Following her diagnosis in 2015, the mother of two and grandmother of four, developed several tumors. She tried chemotherapy for two years, but it never worked.
"Oh, the chemo was hard. It was hard to go through because I was always sick and feeling bad all the time," Diggs said.
So Diggs decided to take a risk. She volunteered for the experimental CAR-T cell trial at MedStar Georgetown and began receiving it in the summer of 2018.
The treatment essentially used Diggs' own immune system to fight the cancer.
CAR-T cells are made in a medical lab using a component of the patient’s white blood cells. The disease-fighting cells are "supercharged" and then infused back into the patient.
“The CAR-T cells are genetically modified to recognize specific antigens present on the tumor and, once infused, target the tumor like a missile,” Dr. Pashna Munshi, associate clinical director of the Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program, said in a news release.
In only three months, Diggs' tumors disappeared.
"Don’t have those down moments, always think positive because good things can happen," Diggs told News4.
"You made history for us here, Ms. Diggs," Munshi told her at her six-month check-in on Thursday.
Munshi informed Diggs that her cancer still shows no signs of returning.
"Her constant positivity has helped her really overcome the scary side effects of this kind of therapy," Munshi said.
Diggs said she's looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren.
"I'm just so happy," she said.
MedStar Georgetown said CAR-T cell therapy carries many possible risks including drops in blood pressure, high fevers, neurological problems and even death as the body reacts to major changes in the immune system.
The FDA has approved the treatment for some types of cancer.