The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD, along with his young patient Emily Whitehead, were recently named 2013 WebMD Health Heroes. The Center for Childhood Cancer Research’s Director of Translational Research, Dr. Grupp has been leading a groundbreaking trial of immune therapy to treat childhood leukemia that led to Emily’s dramatic recovery.
Designed to honor “visionary Americans who met a health challenge and gave back to others in an inspiring way,” Dr. Grupp and Emily Whitehead were among a small group of advocates, parents, and activists honored by WebMD. In addition to Dr. Grupp and Emily, other honorees include Lee Morgan, DVM, who works to help care for injured service dogs, and Manny Hernandez, who established social networks for people with diabetes. Dr. Grupp was the only clinician honored in 2013.
Dr. Grupp’s trial is focused on using engineered T cells to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive childhood leukemia. The most common form of leukemia found in children, ALL is largely curable, with a roughly 85 percent cure rate. However, the remaining 15 percent of ALL cases resist standard therapy.
When Emily came to Dr. Grupp, her ALL had relapsed for the second time and was resistant to chemotherapy. In April of 2012 she became the first pediatric patient to receive the engineered T cells. And though the treatment led to a life-threatening illness — known as cytokine release syndrome — Emily eventually recovered after Dr. Grupp and his team were able to treat her symptoms. Since receiving the T cells, Emily remains healthy and cancer-free.
“We are so grateful to these doctors who spend their lives curing cancer,” Emily’s father Tom Whitehead said.