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Thursday 08 February 2024

Grandad ‘gets life back’ thanks to revolutionary new cancer treatment

A motorbike enthusiast says he's got his life back after receiving a new treatment for his recurring cancer.

Peter Garland is the first patient to receive chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T) therapy in Southampton.

The treatment can now be offered to patients in the South, thanks to ongoing research at University Hospital Southampton.

First patient in Southampton

Peter, 71, was diagnosed with lymphoma and had chemotherapy. But after a brief period in remission, he was told his cancer had returned.

The dad-of-two is now enjoying life to the max and celebrating being cancer-free. He says CAR T-cell therapy has given him his life back.

“I had reached the point where chemotherapy just wasn’t cutting it,” he explained. “There wasn’t another option. I was told that if I was suitable, having this treatment would give me the best chance of ensuring the lymphoma didn’t return.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have been offered this treatment and to have come through it so well. It has already given me another year, and I have been able to get back on with my life and that’s amazing.

“It’s now up to me to ensure I take good care of myself, out of respect for all that has been done for me if nothing else.”

Offering patients hope

CAR T is a form of cellular therapy which involves collecting and using the patients’ own modified immune cells to treat their condition.

UHS is the first hospital Trust in the south east to offer it, meaning patients from across the region no longer have to travel to London. It comes after involvement in research studies into CAR T-cell therapies, such as the TRANSFORM trial. Researchers continue to investigate CAR T-cell therapies in other trials at the Southampton Emerging Therapies and Technologies (SETT) centre.

CAR T is the newest treatment being delivered by the Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy (WBMT&CT) programme team at UHS. In its first year, 21 patients have received the treatment.

The launch of the centre at UHS last year forms part of a national expansion in CAR T provision by NHS England, which has seen six new centres onboarded in the last year, providing greater access for those who need treatment. Over 1,300 people have received CAR T treatment via the NHS in England since its introduction.

The WBMT&CT team are internationally renowned for their work. They have been recognised by The European Blood and Marrow Transplant Organisation as having the best outcomes in Europe for patients who undergo donor stem cell or bone marrow transplants.

The therapy has been shown to be effective for some blood cancers. It takes time to plan and deliver and involves a patient being in isolation for several weeks. While it could be offered to Peter, not all patients are suitable.

The process involves cells being harvested from a patient and then reprogrammed, before being infused back into the patient so they can target their cancer. While it comes with risks and will not cure all recipients, it offers real hope to patients - even those with quite advanced cancers and where other available treatments have failed.

Getting his life back

Peter is still working as a watch repairer in Jersey – a job he enjoys and describes as more of a hobby than work.

As a grandfather-of-two, he spends the rest of his time with his family and friends. He is passionate about motorcycling, having been riding since the age of 16.

He said: “When I was ill everything had to stop. I couldn’t get out on the bikes at all. But having that interest, and my family and friends of course, was all the incentive I needed to get well again.

“I feel sharing the experience is the least I can do in return, to try and give other people who are starting out on a similar journey some confidence.”

Sara Main, Lead Nurse, Bone Marrow Transplant and Cell Therapy, said: “Adding CAR T cell therapy to the repertoire of treatments we can offer patients at UHS is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work and dedication.

“It takes ongoing vision and commitment of the doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals together with our quality team to deliver these treatments safely and effectively. It also requires collaboration with many other departments within - and other organisations outside - the hospital.

“We want to not only be able to give all the treatments that are available to patients that may benefit them, but to think ahead to our patients and families of the future, as there will be more people who may be helped by this and other types of cellular therapy.”