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Jill Biden announces Costa Rica childhood cancer agreement

The First Lady of the United States, Jill Biden, visited the National Children’s Hospital in Costa Rica on Sunday. During the ceremony, the National Children’s Hospital reached an agreement to allow Costa Rican children with leukemia to have access to a new treatment called immunotherapy.

The partnership was signed with the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in order to treat certain types of child leukemia.

“It is an opportunity of life for Costa Rican children with cancer,” said Biden.

According to the agreement, the three institutions will explore the possibility for patients to travel to the University of Pennsylvania or the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have their immune cells harvested and transformed into CAR T cells at the university. The successfully produced CAR T cells would then be sent to Costa Rica for infusion as part of a clinical trial conducted here.

“We have a very ambitious goal which is to reduce the cancer death rate to at least 50% over the next 25 years and we are working to improve the experiences of patients, their families and those providing care,” The First Lady said during her speech.

The president of the CCSS explained that this cutting-edge treatment consists of making a genetic modification which enables the cells to attack certain proteins and, therefore, fight cancer.

“This is carried out when traditional treatments, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, have not worked. In other words, it restores hope to many children and their parents who had already lost it,” Alvaro Ramos explained.

“We are very hopeful that, when it starts happening here, it’s going to look like magic, because it really is a treatment that looks like magic, where the cells are modified and they learn to fight the cancer,” Ramos added.

Olga Arguedas, director of the Children’s Hospital, explained “this is a new option in the world that appears to offer a chance of life to children with a special form of leukemia, called B-cell leukemia, which in many cases is resistant to treatment with chemotherapy.”

“Before the development of this type of treatment, these children had no other option but palliative care until their last days,” she said.

Arguedas also mentioned this new technology sometimes acts as a transition to bone marrow transplantation and, in other cases, the treatment itself is successful.

The event was also attended by the First Lady of Costa Rica, Signe Zeicate; the U.S. Ambassador, Cynthia Telles; and the Second Vice President of Costa Rica, Mary Munive. Also present were Carl June, a cancer immunologist; Glen Gaulton of the Center for Global Health; and Bruce Levine from the Perelman School of Medicine. Stephan Grupp, a pediatrician specialized in cancer from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia joined as well.

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