"In June 2016, Nicole Gularte was ready to die. The 33-year-old tax accountant had relapsed from Leukemia several times since her diagnosis years earlier. She had lost her hair, could only see in black and white, and her knees hurt so badly that she could no longer turn to hiking and the beautiful vistas of Yosemite National Park for inspiration. Now, she turned her attention to making peace with death, getting baptized, and saying goodbye to her family.
Following her diagnosis in 2010, Nicole had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy as part of a combination chemotherapy clinical trial, only to have the cancer return. You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought. I just went through three years of hell. There has to be something better.
A relapse in April 2014 prompted Nicole to do her own research online, searching for clinical trial results on clinicaltrials.gov and other databases. Nicole was intrigued by a new treatment called CAR T-cell therapy, which was still in clinical trials.
Over the next two years, Nicole kept her sights set on the CAR-T trial. She was so committed that she turned down a matching bone marrow donor, which would render her ineligible for the CAR T-cell trial (by temporarily ridding her bone marrow of cancer). Then more bad news came. Tests revealed there was cancer in her brain, her eyes, and spinal cord. Unless she could clear cancer from these parts of her central nervous system, she wouldn’t be eligible for the UPenn CAR T-cell study.
But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the cancer receded from all parts of her CNS in July 2016. Everything had lined up for her to join the CAR-T cell clinical trial, and the doctors running the trial agreed to let her join.
In September 2016, she flew to UPenn to start the therapy. The team of doctors was ready for her. After several days, her color vision and strength started to return. Three weeks into the trial, tests showed no evidence of cancer in any part of her body."
This November, Nicole discovered that her cancer had returned and is now enrolled into a second CAR-T trial. She'll be sharing her story on the Phacilitate Talks stage.
Nicole also owns the most well-known dog in cell and gene therapy. Bentley has accompanied Nicole to multiple clinical centers, research centers and advanced therapies conferences and might be spotted roaming the exhibition floor.