A national study to cure a specific form of Leukemia happening in Augusta

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Augusta, GA (WJBF)—Happening right now—a national study to cure a specific form of Leukemia and it is taking place right here in Augusta. NewsChannel 6’s Ashley Osborne sat down with the program leader and one of his patients.

Martinez Jennings was visiting Augusta when he went from healthy to so weak he could not even keep his eyes open.

“I just fell out,” Jennings describes. “I’ve never had any issues pertaining to this, like at all.”

Doctors diagnosed him with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL). This type of Leukemia comes out of nowhere and acts fast attacking your blood cells.

Jennings thinks back to this scary diagnosis. “Whenever I started to come through…immediately I almost started crying,” he says.

It just so happens Augusta—the city Jennings was visiting when he got sick—is home to a nationally recognized program to treat this specific and rare form of Leukemia. The program at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University is led by Dr. Anand Jillella.

“30% of patients don’t make it through the first month,” Dr. Jillella explains. “If you can get them through the first month, it’s a home run.”

39% of the patients they treated from 2005 to 2009 died. Afterwards, they took a close look at why they were losing so many people to a disease that is so curable. They closely examined each patient and charted what they did, or did not do with each one. From that research, they developed a treatment checklist. The checklist contains the list of things necessary for an Oncologist to do to get the patient through the first few weeks of the disease. Jillella says, speed is a key factor.

They treated 23 patients using this checklist. All 23 lived. They received a grant to apply the procedure on a larger scale and the success continued.

“Then we went back to the National Cancer Institute and we said look, this is the data and it was so compelling that they couldn’t say no,” Dr. Jillella points out.

With the help of the National Cancer Institute, the current trial was born. This trial is now happening across the United States and it is based right here at MCG. The goal is to teach Oncologists this treatment checklist so they can save more lives. The trial is open in about 140 centers and there are 7 experts nationwide available 24-7.

Dr. Jillella’s treated Jennings for about a month now and Jennings says he feels like he did prior to his diagnosis. He is one of roughly 3,000 people diagnosed with APL each year.

Jennings’ contribution to this study could help save lives in the future.

“If can help the next person—I will,” Jennings says with a smile.

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