Tampa General Hospital Brings New Hope for Patients with Advanced Blood Cancers

Published: Mar 4, 2024

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy harnesses the power of a patient’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells; patient comfort and safety can be enhanced with Tampa General’s use of a novel biometric device.


Tampa, FL (March 3, 2024) – As part of its commitment to harness innovative advances in cancer care, the Tampa General Hospital (TGH) Cancer Institute has added a novel approach to its therapeutic armamentarium for the treatment of patients with aggressive forms of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas and other types of blood cancers.

The Cancer Institute is focusing on enhancing the safety of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, an immunological treatment that uses the body’s own immune T cells to find and kill cancer cells.

Normally, a person’s T cells are responsible for detecting noncancerous “intruders,” such as viruses, bacteria and early cancers but fail to do so in advanced disease. However, by genetically modifying these cells to recognize the unique proteins that are present on the surface of cancer cells, it’s possible to program them to destroy cancerous cells.

The field of immunotherapy has evolved from an academic research program to an essential pillar in the treatment of many cancers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six CAR T-cell therapies. All are intended for the treatment of blood cancers, including lymphomas, some forms of leukemia and, most recently, multiple myeloma. One advantage of CAR T-cell therapy over many other treatments is that it is a one-time treatment.

“Thanks to the pioneering work of many cancer immunologists and clinical investigators, the era of CAR T-cells was born, which has forever changed the landscape of blood cancer treatment, leading to cures of patients with aggressive forms of B-cell lymphomas who have no other options for treatment,” said Dr. Eduardo Sotomayor, vice president, executive director of the TGH Cancer Institute.

According to the Lymphoma Research Foundation, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in the United States and worldwide, accounting for about 22% of newly diagnosed cases of B-cell NHL in the U.S. alone. CAR T-cell therapies are most often used for patients who have experienced a return of their lymphoma.

“CAR T-cell therapies are personalized medicine because they’re customized for each individual patient,’’ said Dr. Ivan Borrello, director of the Multiple Myeloma, Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) and Cell Therapies program at Tampa General. “It can be an exceptionally effective treatment for patients who have relapsed. Overall response can be very high and very quick after Car T. We typically know within a month if a patient has achieved a good response.” Borrello is a renowned myeloma and BMT/cell therapies expert who joined the TGH Cancer Institute in 2022 from the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, where he established a novel translational cell therapy program.

TGH Hospital at Home Boosts Comfort for CAR T Patients

In addition to effectively and selectively killing cancer cells, CAR T-cell therapy is also associated with significant adverse events that need to be aggressively monitored and treated to guarantee successful outcomes. Because of this, CAR T-cell therapy patients can spend several weeks in the hospital. Taking advantage of Tampa General’s advanced technologic platform called Hospital at Home, established by Dr. Peter Chang, senior vice president and chief transformation officer, seemed like an ideal answer to returning CAR T patients to their homes and families more quickly.

Borrello, together with Jenn Hanle, APRN, who also joined the TGH Cancer Institute from the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, sought to partner with Chang to leverage the innovation infrastructure at Tampa General to bring novel biometrics devices for the remote monitoring of CAR T-cell patients to enhance safety and shorten the length of the hospital stay.

Following comprehensive planning and discussion, Tampa General’s Hospital at Home program has started to be applied to CAR T patients meeting certain criteria. “Through Hospital at Home, we can provide non-invasive monitoring,” Chang said. “Additionally, it is simple for patients to use. They wear a small sensor attached to the skin and do not have to track the data or perform any testing. The sensor transmits the information to a secure portal at the hospital.”

Called Biobeat, the sensor tracks heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation and respiration rate. By tracking the indicators, the care team can see any abnormalities that could indicate a complication and follow up with the patient at home. “With the frequent monitoring that this device provides, we are potentially able to detect adverse events before the patient develops symptoms. This can allow us to escalate care more quickly,” Hanle said. Additionally, being at home with familiar surroundings and the constant support of loved ones can assist in the recovery process.”

Due the benefit of remote monitoring, the TGH Cancer Institute and Hospital at Home teams have been working on adapting Hospital at Home for oncology patients. The two teams will continue to work to together on adapting Hospital at Home for oncology patients.

“On a personal note, it was gratifying to witness that our CAR T-cell patient who received this device for the first time in December, was safely discharged home the day before Christmas,” Sotomayor said. “Thanks to this continuous monitoring at home, she could spend the holiday season with her loved ones.”

“Tampa General has the ability to combine leading scientific developments such as CAR T with compassionate, personalized care and novel wearable technologies focusing on the whole patient,” said Dr. Abraham Schwarzberg, EVP, chief of Oncology and president of the Tampa General Provider Network. “This is truly a patient-focused therapy using the person’s own immune system. In the end, it’s all about the patient and helping them get back to a productive life.”

Tampa General’s cancer physicians offer a highly coordinated range of multidisciplinary specialties, such as hematologic malignancies, thoracic, breast, colorectal, gynecologic oncology, and now bone marrow transplant and cell therapies. Advanced subspecialties include liver and hepatobiliary oncology, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) and genitourinary (reproductive system and genitourinary tract). For more information about the TGH Cancer Institute, visit www.tgh.org/cancer.