SEATTLE--Harper Beare is just shy of her second birthday, and almost everything about her is typical two-year-old. But this little girl has spent nearly half her life in and out of hospitals after being diagnosed with leukemia.
"It's a real gut punch," Harper's mother Sydney Beare remembers of the diagnosis. "Nobody wants to hear that, and it's the last thing I ever expected."
Harper began treatment at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. After four rounds of chemotherapy didn't put Harper into remission, her doctor recommended an immunotherapy trial at Seattle Children's. The procedure involves taking a patient's T cells and re-engineering them to fight the cancer.
Dr. Rebecca Gardner is at the forefront of this research, and even she was surprised by Harper's success. Harper had nearly 10 months of chemo that didn't work. But in 10 days, immunotherapy did.
"This is about as quick as you can get," Gardner said. "Especially for a lot of our patients who have tried a lot of therapies and haven't gotten into remission. It's remarkable that in 10 days, those t-cells can get into the body and get these patients into remission."
Gardner is an oncologist as Children's and also principal investigator of what's called the PLAT-05 trial.
"We learned that patients who were treated in our early study, PLAT-02, were having relapse of their leukemia," Gardner explained. "The way their leukemia was relapsing, is it was essentially outsmarting the CAR-T cells. The CAR-T cells on PLAT-02 target one protein. We were seeing some patients lose that protein, and the CAR-T cells are no longer efficacious. They can't find the leukemia and get rid of it. So we designed PLAT-05 which targets two proteins at the same time. The thought is that the leukemia cells hopefully can't outsmart targeting both of those proteins."
Gardner called Harper the poster child for the study. She is in remission and had minimal side effects.
"I cried. It was the best news ever, honestly," Sydney said.
Harper has since had a bone marrow transplant, using donated cord blood. The transplant will hopefully ensure her cancer doesn't return.
While her family celebrates their success, they also remember other children, like Harper's friend Kaine who died of brain cancer.
"For there to be an option for other kids who don't have great odds or great chances, it's gonna save a lot of kids," Sydney said of immunotherapy.
The family hopes Harper's participation in the clinical trial helps move immunotherapy forward. They want others to hear the words "cancer free."
You can support immunotherapy cancer research through Strong Against Cancer.