Cancer Survivor

When Gisenia Reyes was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the most lethal type of blood cancer, the outlook was not encouraging. Having lost their mother to cancer years before, Gisenia and her identical twin sister, Lucy, knew that the road ahead would not be easy.

Gisenia immediately underwent chemotherapy at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the treatment sent her cancer into remission. But her doctors discovered that Gisenia had a mutation in her blood that could cause her to relapse, and they decided that she needed a stem cell transplant. Working against time, Sylvester’s nationally recognized stem cell transplant team determined that her twin sister, Lucy, was a perfect match. This year, Gisenia celebrated four years cancer-free.

Today, Gisenia and Lucy have turned their life-altering experience into service, giving back to the community through their non-profit organization, We Care Cancer Kits. As Gisenia roams the halls of Sylvester to deliver kits to patients currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment, she radiates an infectious spirit of hope and joy.

The Dolphins Challenge Cancer helps people like me go through cancer treatment and have an easier journey. Sylvester saved my life… I will be part of the DCC forever.

Watch Gisenia’s story here.

The last decade has been an amazing decade of transformation for the DCC, and for Sylvester, and I am extremely excited for what’s to come.

Krishna Komanduri, M.D.
Kalish Family Chair in Stem Cell Transplantation
Professor of Medicine, Microbiology & Immunology
Chief, Division of Transplantation & Cellular Therapy
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Dcc Impact

Thanks to the DCC, Sylvester’s Adult Stem Cell Transplant Program has grown significantly, celebrating its 1,500 transplant this past year. Dr. Komanduri credits DCC funding for being better able to address the needs of leukemia patients in South Florida. Today, Sylvester can transplant nearly anyone who needs this critical cellular therapy.

For several years, the Komanduri laboratory has focused on developing new ways to deliver transplants to patients without complications. 15-MMUD is a clinical trial funded by the DCC. Through this program, the team is optimizing mismatched transplants — in which patients do not have exact matches with their donors — so patients are still able to receive transplants without the risk of complications. Sylvester has become the largest mismatched donor transplant center in the United States.

Dr. Komanduri and his team have been instrumental in the development of immunotherapy trials at Sylvester for cellular therapy, including CAR T-cell therapy. A sample of a patient's T cells are collected from the blood, then modified to produce special structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface. When these CAR T cells are reinfused into the patient, the new receptors enable them to latch onto the patient's tumor cells and destroy them. Sylvester is currently one of the busiest cancer centers in the country for this type of therapy.

Dr. Komanduri also has a particular interest in studying how infection impacts immunocompromised patients, and how the immune system, in both transplant and non-transplant patients, controls viruses. His advances in this area highlight how research often interconnects and can have applications beyond acute problems in cancer to broader problems in science and humanity.

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