National | Cancer

Māori research student involved in promising trial of new generation cancer treatment

Māori cancer research student Danielle Sword (Muaūpoko, Ngāti Tara, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira) is having her mahi realised as the first trial of a groundbreaking cancer treatment gets underway.

Recognised by receiving a Māori Cancer Research award for her investigations with a Māori perspective on CAR T-cell therapy, the trial looked at the safety and effectiveness of a new third-generation version of CAR T-cell therapy.

It showed the promise of being safer than leading commercial CAR T-cell products in treating certain types of blood cancer while remaining effective. Specifically, it suggests the new CAR T-cell therapy may reduce the risk of severe side effects.

“The clinical trial called Enable included just over 20 patients who had exhausted all cancer treatments, and about 20% of that cohort were of Māori descent,” she says.

“The results from this trial showed what the appropriate dose of treatment is to be safe for our patients. We did see about 50% of these patients show signs of remission, that the treatment was working, that the blood cancer these patients were diagnosed with and how they were trying to get rid of them; it was going away in this trial.”

She hopes that, ultimately, the mahi will lead to better health outcomes for Māori with cancer.

With this treatment already in use internationally, Sword wants nationwide access to CAR T-cell therapy while also improving what needs to be improved to tackle other cancer forms, potentially.

“It’s able to tackle blood cancers, but we know there are many types of cancers, so solid tumours like lung and breast cancer. That’s also a part that’s progressing as therapy, especially for our whānau.”

The PHD student says she is still in the early stages of creating the foundations of tikanga Māori throughout the CAR T-cellmahi since last spoke to her in May.

“In my rangahau, I’m reaching out to talk with Māori participants who have gone through a cancer journey. I’ll be talking with them about their experiences and, perhaps, reasonings behind their journey, and treatment choices.

“I also want to gather kōrero and whakaaro from their whānau support, to hear their experiences and expertise.”

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