Aug 02, 2018
Connie Burnett believes she is alive today because of cancer gene therapy. Her story began in April 1999 in Dallas, TX. She came down with a bad upper respiratory infection. Several people in her office had been sick with pneumonia, so she went to her doctor to see if she needed antibiotics. After a chest X-ray, the doctor discovered tumors in both of her lungs. That June, she was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. She was not a candidate for surgery or radiation, so her oncologist referred her to the Mary Crowley Research Clinic at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.
After going through two unsuccessful trials involving chemotherapy, she started her third and last clinical trial in September 2000. This trial incorporated a “Gene Modified Autologous Tumor Vaccine” for early and advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer. A few of her tumor cells were surgically removed and then injected with a special gene, called GM-CSF, to create a personally manufactured vaccine for her cancer. She received six injections, each three weeks apart. Connie had no side effects and was able to return to work after each injection. The tumor cells carrying the GM-CSF gene replicated in her body and activated her own immune system to fight the cancer.
Since her gene therapy treatment, Connie has only had two brief recurrences of her cancer in 2001 and 2014. She was treated surgically both times and has remained cancer-free ever since.
Connie has traveled to 63 countries since her diagnosis. When she is home in Dallas, she enjoys spending time with her 3 ½ year old grandson.
“I am not a scientist, but I can tell you that gene therapy is the reason why I am here today,” Connie said. “While I am not comfortable with the word “cure”, I feel fortunate that my cancer is manageable and I am able to lead a full life.”