About Lucas' Treatment
After exhausting all options to save our son in the US, we found a glimmer of hope with a team of physicians in Monterrey, Mexico. These doctors are racing to improve treatment options for children with DIPG. They recognize that treatment options over the past forty years have not resulted in an improved prognosis. Their professional backgrounds and experience in treating patients with brain cancer for dozens of years have shaped their treatment plans for children with DIPG in the past year.
Among the 50 young DIPG patients who have gathered in Monterrey from around the world, Lucas may have a chance at a breakthrough result to change the history of this terrible childhood brain cancer.
There are several medical reasons the Monterrey, Mexico treatment holds more promise than current options in the USA. Each chemotherapy injection, each radiation treatment, and anti-cancer agent we have given to Lucas may slow down tumor growth, but genetic mutations in the cancer cells circumvent these treatments and find other ways to grow. A growing tumor disrupts normal physical activity until it robs a child of their life.
The Mexico option has two major approaches in combination that are not currently available in the USA for DIPG patients:
- Chemotherapy: They use a delivery method called intra-arterial (IA) injection to send chemotherapy drugs at or near the site of the tumor, making the drug more effective than an oral dose. Different from the US which offers single drug delivery using this method, this treatment uses a combination of therapeutic drugs and chemotherapy agents to block an array of both intrinsic and treatment-induced growth and resistance factors in DIPG. To deliver the drugs, a puncture is made in the femoral artery in which a micro-catheter is inserted and directed by fluoroscopy to the site of the tumor’s blood supply.
- Immunotherapy: They use immunotherapy to engineer the patient’s T cells to recognize cancer cells. Normal working T cells are essential for immunity to foreign bodies. The immune system recognizes cancer cells as foreign and up to a point can get rid of them or keep them in check. But cancer cells are very good at finding ways to hide from, mutate, suppress, or wear out the immune system. Immunotherapies for cancer stimulate or boost the immune system so that it can more effectively recognize and attack tumors.
To attack the tumor cells with multiple drugs and from multiple angles (delivery mechanisms) is where the Mexico option is pushing the envelope compared to the standard (ie. hopeless) care that the DIPG community has experienced in the past 40 years. This is the glimmer of hope we have been waiting for.
What Kind of Immunotherapy is Being Done in Mexico?
The immunotherapy is done by taking the patient’s blood one week before treatment and then training (pulsing) the dendritic cells (Autologous Dendritic Cell Immunotherapy) and the T-Cells (Active Cell Therapy) to recognize the patients DIPG tumor cells.
The cultured dendritic cells are then injected back subcutaneously under the skin on both sides of the neck where the lymph nodes are located (factories for the immune system). The dendritic cells can be thought of as teachers for the rest of the immune system to recognize what to attack.
Why so Expensive?
These treatments are out-of-country and therefore NOT covered by insurance.
Lucas is scheduled for 6x intra arterial and 4x immunotherapy treatments to start. The cost of each treatment is prohibitive at around $17,000 for intra arterial and $15,000 for immunotherapy - every 3 weeks! It is unclear how many treatments Lucas will need for the long term but the plan is to extend the time between treatments once the tumor shrinks to a "manageable size."
We refuse to let cost be a barrier to Lucas' life but we need everyone's help to keep this going. Whatever you can donate, we are extremely grateful.