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A new cellular therapy lab in Orlando will reduce chemo on kids with cancer

 Margaret Guedes, the president of Kids Beating Cancer,  stands next to a LN2 Storage Tank and liquid nitrogen at the Cellular Therapy Facility at AdeventHealth Orlando. The tanks are used to cryopreserve patient transplant products such as stem cells. Kids Beating Cancer donated $1.2 million toward the development fo the lab for future procedures.
Joe Mario Pedersen
Margaret Guedes, the president of Kids Beating Cancer, stands next to a liquid nitrogen storage tank at the Cellular Therapy facility at AdventHealth Orlando. Her group donated $1.2 million toward the lab's equipment.

Cellular therapy has been a game-changer for children. AdventHealth's new facility will offer quicker turnaround times for kids waiting on cellular therapy treatment, reducing the amount of chemo they need.

A new pediatric cancer treatment facility lab will be offering more innovative ways to fight off the disease in the form of cellular therapy

On Wednesday, AdventHealth held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Cellular Therapy facility, which will allow lab techs to create immunity cells as a means of destroying cancer cells.

The Winter Park group Kids Beating Cancer, donated $1.2 million toward advanced equipment that would allow the facility to develop stem cells into cancer immunity cells. Those cells would later be transplanted into kids with cancer — a type of cellular therapy known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR T.

Most facilities ship collected stem cells to transformative plants - a process that can take six to eight weeks. The new facility do it in three to four weeks, making it the only Central Florida facility where that process happens under one roof.

Cellular therapy has been a game-changer for children, who could use a minimal amount of chemotherapy. Chemo often can leave children with debilitating effects on their bodies and neuroprocesses, said Dr. Susan Kelly, medical director for Pediatric Cellular Therapy at AdventHealth for Children.

"As a parent, it's enough to have to watch your child go through chemotherapy and cancer treatment, but then to have to watch them continue to have challenges is heartbreaking. So if we can decrease that at all, that is a huge win," she said.

Margaret Guedes, the president of Kids Beating Cancer, was present during Wednesday's ceremony. She said the contribution was necessary for pediatric cancer research because funding for the area only makes up 4% of all cancer research funding. Guedes hopes that more will follow the organization's example.

"Our whole purpose for kids getting cancer was to make sure that children could stay here and not have to go elsewhere and still get the best care," Guedes said. "What we're going to be able to do here and are already doing here is saving so many lives that otherwise would have to lead the community to get the state-of-the-art treatment."

Thirty years ago, Guedes' son John was diagnosed with myeloblastic leukemia. A bone marrow transplant was required but wasn't available in Central Florida, so Guedes and her son traveled to Seattle. Guedes recalls how hard it was to be away from family during the process. John lost his cancer battle during the 100-plus days they spent in Washington state.

Guedes said John's story is why she's determined to invest in more cancer-saving research.

"It's so important that we can stay in our community and not uproot a family to go elsewhere. It's so powerful to be able to have that right here and not have to even drive two hours away," she said.

AdventHealth's facility will allow doctors and techs to begin new experimental trials by as early as next year and will likely make its equipment available to facilities outside of Central Florida.

"With the new lab, we actually will have the technology and the ability to do things that very few other centers even in the country can do, which is exciting for us," she said.

Copyright 2024 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Joe Mario Pedersen