For Liu Ming, dealing with multiple myeloma has been a challenging journey. Originally from Shanxi province, China, Liu traveled to a hospital in Beijing to pursue treatment. Standard treatments like chemotherapy had initially showed signs of some success against the disease, but could never achieve a full remission. Seeking long-term, complete remission, Liu decided to travel to the U.S. to meet with Noopur Raje, MD, and the oncology team at the Mass General Cancer Center. His hope was that the CAR T-cell therapy program, a novel treatment that has, in some cancer patients, achieved long-term remission, would be the last stop on his 5-year search for a solution.
In December 2017, Liu suddenly suffered a broken rib. While at his local hospital to treat the fracture, he developed to a low fever that would not resolve. To help determine the cause, his doctors conducted a urine test. The results suggested that Liu’s kidneys showed signs of abnormal function, but they were inconclusive.
Because the results were not definitive, the doctors referred Liu to a hospital in Beijing for a more thorough examination. He traveled to Beijing and underwent a series of tests, hoping to find an answer. There, tests revealed unexpected news: Liu’s kidneys were in fact not the issue—he had stage IIA multiple myeloma.
Doctors at the Beijing hospital soon began treating him with several courses of chemotherapy drugs throughout 2018 and a stem cell transplantation using his own cells. The initial tests to evaluate the treatment effectiveness were promising. As a result, doctors transitioned Liu to a lower dose of chemotherapy in hopes of keeping the cancer at bay, with the intention to gradually achieve complete remission.
However, for the next three years, Liu continued to experience cycles of partial remission and recurrence of the multiple myeloma. This made it difficult for him to focus at work due to the constant state of unease.
“The cycles of resuming chemotherapy and improving,” he says, “only to have the cancer come back again was frustrating. At that point, I didn’t have much hope. I wondered if this was truly how the rest of my life was going to be, whatever time I had left.”
Searching abroad for a promising treatment option
Liu turned his attention to the United States in search of long-term remission. He worked with a company named Auro Medical to help find the best match for hospitals offering CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy, an immunotherapy which has had success treating multiple forms of cancer for patients who have not responded well to chemotherapy and other standard treatments.
In CAR T-cell therapy, a patient’s own T-cells are harvested, re-engineered to attack specific cancer cells, then put back into the patient’s body to help fight off the disease. Because CAR T-cell therapy uses the body’s own T-cells, the cells can multiply when there is more cancer to reject, then contract as tumors are eliminated. This is how the treatment can produce long-lasting, durable remissions for patients with even some of the most advanced forms of cancer.
Learn about Mass General Brigham International Patient Care
With the assistance of Auro Medical, Liu arrived in June 2022 at the Mass General Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts, to meet with Dr. Noopur Raje, director of the Center for Multiple Myeloma. The multidisciplinary care team determined that Liu was a good candidate and met the conditions for receiving CAR T-cell therapy. A blood draw was scheduled in September, with administration of treatment to follow in October.
At the end of October, Liu received the CAR T-cell treatment across one week. Though he initially felt fine at the time, he began to experience side effects, including fever, nausea, and loss of appetite. His Mass General Cancer Center care team was in constant contact to provide assurance and methods to alleviate the symptoms until they began to resolve after a few days.
“Throughout the entire course of my visit, from initial consultation, to treatment, to follow-up appointments, my care team reassured me with their transparent and open communication. I always felt like I knew what to expect at every stage of the process,” Liu says.
Liu stayed in the U.S. for two more months as Dr. Raje and the team monitored progress of the treatment. Finally, on his last follow-up visit, he heard the news that he once thought was just wishful thinking: the multiple myeloma was in complete remission.
Liu returned to China in January 2023, where he met with doctors in Beijing to check if the cancer was still in remission. Dr. Raje continued to review Liu’s scans and confirmed that the cancer had completely disappeared: no further treatment was necessary, and he could finally live a normal life again.
“After being diagnosed in 2018 and receiving ongoing treatment for almost 5 long years, hearing the news that I am now cancer-free allowed me to feel relief for the first time in a while,” he says. “Though I still have the thought that cancer could return at any moment due to my experiences these past few years, I am cautiously optimistic that the CAR T-cell therapy has been the solution I was hoping for. I am forever grateful to the experts in China and at the Mass General Cancer Center who treated me.”