NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Imagine getting leukemia in third grad and enduring years of chemotherapy, only to be saved by a bone marrow transplant that cures you.
But what happens if you develop a lethal complication, where it’s the transplant that’s killing you? It happened to one young man, who was miraculously saved by a revolutionary stem cell therapy.
Looking at Kameron Kooshesh walking through his college quad today, you’d never know that he’s a living example of the future of medicine. It all started on his last day of third grade.
“I had the world’s worst fever, felt sicker than I ever had,” he said. “I went to the local emergency department, they did a blood test. My counts were off the charts.”
The diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Within days, Kameron started two and a half years of intensive chemotherapy.
“You start to lose your hair, you start to feel quiet, just generally ill,” he said. “You start to have neurological symptoms as well. Things become a little fuzzy.”
After all that, Kameron still had leukemia. It led his family to a cross country search for help and eventually to Duke Medical Center and stem cell pioneer Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg. She performed a grueling bone marrow transplant on Kameron.
“He received whole body radiation and high dose chemotherapy, and then the infusion of the donor cells,” Kurtzberg said.
At first it appeared the transplant worked. Kameron’s leukemia was gone, then he developed a rare but dangerous complication sometimes seen after a bone marrow transplant — Graft vs Host Disease, or GVHD.
“If steroids do not work, which was his situation, there’s about an 80 percent mortality rate within six months,” Kurtzberg. “He was… in a very high risk situation with a very poor prognosis.”
That’s when Kurtzberg went for the medical version of a Hail Mary — she asked Mesoblast, a cell therapy company, for a compassionate use exemption to use their experimental stem cell treatment. It involved a simple infusion of specialized stem cells over the span of eight weeks. It completely shut down Kameron’s lethal GVHD.
The ordeal was almost a decade ago. Kameron isn’t just cancer and GVHD-free today, he’s also a first year med student at Harvard who believes in the power of stem cells.
“They know what to do and they… can be tailored to exactly your therapy,” he said. “They can be tailored to the person themselves. They’re the treatment of the future.”
The Mesoblast treatment is made from donor bone marrow stem cells that are processed to make them generic, meaning they don’t have to be matched to the recipient.