Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma survivor now wants to 'give back'

August 31, 2015 | by Denise Heady

Sebastian Sanchez-Luege spent his summer in a City of Hope lab studying T Cells, as part of City of Hope’s Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy. Sebastian Sanchez-Luege spent his summer in a City of Hope lab studying T cells as part of City of Hope’s Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy.

Sebastian Sanchez-Luege knows too well how crucial cancer research is in saving people’s lives.

The 19-year-old was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, a rare condition that accounts for just 2 percent of blood cancers, when he was just 6 years old.

When standard treatments didn’t work, he came to City of Hope for a stem cell transplant. The procedure was successful and now, 13 years later, the native of Tustin, California, is cancer-free.

“That experience just changed my life so much that I know I want to give back to society as a whole,” Sanchez-Luege said in an interview with the Orange County Register.

And this summer, he got to do just that at City of Hope’s Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy.

The Summer Student Academy gives high school and college students a chance to research leading-edge treatments for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases alongside City of Hope's world-renowned physicians and scientists.

“Really we want to get them excited about science and encourage them that these careers are possible,” said Kate Sleeth, a biochemist and academic program administrator for City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, in an interview with the Orange County Register.

Sanchez-Luege spent the past 10 weeks in a City of Hope research lab, overseen by Christine Brown, Ph.D., associate director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory, and Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, studying T cell therapy. In this type of therapy, T cells are isolated from a sample of the patient’s blood, and then genetically engineered to seek out and attack a specific cancer.

Alongside City of Hope researchers and scientists, Sanchez-Luege helped re-engineer T cells to target and kill brain tumors. Recently, City of Hope launched a clinical trial using patients’ own modified T cells to fight advanced brain tumors.

“The brain is such an interesting organ that no one really knows that much about,” he told the Orange County Register.

Sanchez-Luege, a junior at Stanford who is majoring in biology with a concentration in neuroscience, said being able to see positive results firsthand this summer has solidified his career choice in health care.

He knows medical school is in the future, but hasn’t decided whether he wants to pursue a doctorate degree in neurosciences or look into becoming a pediatric oncologist.

“I can see myself as a pediatric oncologist,” said Sanchez-Luege. “My doctor really inspired me and did everything she could to help me. I want to be a part of that and give back.”

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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