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N.S. offering potentially life-saving cancer treatment so patients don’t have to leave province

Click to play video: 'N.S. offers new form of treatment for blood cancers' N.S. offers new form of treatment for blood cancers
WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia has become the first province in Atlantic Canada to offer a new form of treatment for certain types of blood cancer. Adults with some forms of lymphoma and leukemia will no longer have to leave the province -- and in many cases, the country – to get potentially life-saving care. Callum Smith reports – Jun 21, 2022

Nova Scotia has become the first province in Atlantic Canada to offer a potentially life-saving cancer treatment — and the first patient to benefit from the treatment couldn’t be more thankful.

Charles Jesso fought back tears as he thanked all the health-care workers “who made the day possible,” at an announcement detailing the province’s successful use of CAR-T cell therapy, which can help fight certain types of blood cancers.

“If CAR-T therapy was not available, I may not be here today,” he said.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma back in March 2021 and underwent two types of chemotherapy.

“For a while, it seemed to be OK. However, 10 months later, in January 2022, Dr. [Mahmoud] Elsawy told us ‘the treatment wasn’t working,’ that it was an aggressive cancer and was not responding to the chemo.”
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That left him with one other option: receive CAR-T cell therapy — but that meant a trip to Boston to get the Nova Scotia Health-described ‘cutting-edge cancer treatment.’

According to the health authority’s news release, CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) -T cell therapy, which is a form of immunotherapy, “involves collecting and genetically modifying a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to be able to fight their cancer.”

Thankfully, a team had been established at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and hired many front-line workers who put in long hours to be able to provide the treatment locally. In July 2021, the previous Liberal government announced a $6.7-million annual investment to support the work.

That’s exactly where Jesso received the treatment.

“Taking… going to Boston — the anxiety level from that — out of the equation? Priceless.”

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Dr. Mahmoud Elsawy, a hematologist and medical director of Nova Scotia Health’s CAR-T cell therapy, says the treatment is for certain types of lymphoma and leukemia and that it was approved by Health Canada in 2018.

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“Six months later, we did have a clinical study up and running in our centre,” he told reporters.

“It was a long way. We’re just starting,” he says. “And hopefully the future is much brighter.”

He says it’s expected to help about 10-15 patients per year.

“This cutting-edge cancer treatment will also open many avenues for patients with other types of cancer in the near future,” says Dr. Darrell White, a hematologist and director of the NS Health Cell Therapy and Transplant Program, in the news release.

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Jesso says two-and-a-half months after the treatment has finished, there are still good days and bad days, but overall, they’re improving.

And his wife, Emmaline, who had to leave her job to help care for him, also thanked the Nova Scotia Health team at the announcement.

“We want to thank all of you for giving Charles back his life,” she said.

The health authority hopes to provide the treatment for Atlantic Canadians one day, but for now, the team at the QEII is just focused on providing the treatment to Nova Scotians.

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