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Kentucky man in remission after being first to undergo new cancer therapy

John Hornsby Sr. with OHC staff
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 18:42:01-04

CINCINNATI  — A Northern Kentucky man is the first patient in the world to receive cancer therapy, which has kept his cancer from returning.

John Hornsby Sr. of Latonia swore ongoing stomach pain was coming from a hernia.

"I was either in the bathroom sick or in my bed sick, and I stayed like that for almost six months," he said.

But his wife, Tamison, prodded him to get it checked out by a doctor.

"It wasn't protruding. It was just glowing red," she said. "And I said, 'John, that's not right.'"

Hornsby took his wife's advice and decided to make an appointment.

"They told us it was Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and that surgery wasn't an option," Tamison said.

"We cried for three days when I found out I had cancer, and I told her, I said, 'That's enough. I can't take this crying. I can't do it no more,'" Hornsby said.

After his diagnosis, Hornsby underwent chemotherapy. Then he went into remission.

"By the 12th month, it was back with a vengeance — even in more spots than it originally had been," Tamison said.

And that pattern continued for close to a decade until Oncology Hematology Care's Dr. Jim Essell stepped in.

"What we're doing now with John is a quantum leap forward," Essell said. "He had eight different treatment courses over nine years. So the T-cells are exhausted. They don't fight cancer as well, which is why we thought he would be a perfect candidate for this clinical trial."

Dr. Essell and his team at OHC were approached by Caribou Biosciences to conduct a phase one trial.

They wanted to look into a more targeted approach to treat B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It's a treatment that doesn't put the rest of the body through trauma, like radiation.

"It can specifically insert an antibody directed against cancer into these T-cells," Essell said. "Then the T-cells hone in on cancer cells. They release chemicals that cause the cells to divide, bring more T-cells in, ultimately kill the cancer, and spare the rest of the body."

In June 2021, Hornsby received T-cells through an IV, making him the first in the world to receive this cutting-edge cancer treatment.

"It didn't hit me at all until I had my test, and he'd come back ... my cancer's shrinking and shrinking and shrinking," Hornsby said.

Just 28 days after treatment, Hornsby showed no detectable signs of cancer, and he's been in remission since.

Essell said this treatment has a long way to go to become standard protocol for cancer centers worldwide, but this is a big step forward.

"The only way we make this groundbreaking improvement is [with] bold, courageous people like John that are willing to take the risk and being the first one ever to get this treatment.," Essell said.

Hornsby said since the beginning, the staff at OHC went above and beyond to make him feel comfortable while facing a new frontier.

"All my doctors, nurses, they took care of me like a newborn baby," he said. "It's like a big family here."

Essell said soon they'll move to the next trial phase and treat an even bigger pool of people.

The clinical trial is now enrolling patients at OHC and other medical centers throughout the United States. For more information, visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Jasmine Styles at WCPO first reported this story.