UCLA Clinical Trial Offers Hope for Lymphoma Patients

Hirotaka Matsunaga has been in remission for 18 months after participating in a CAR-T cell therapy led by UCLA professors.

In June 2018, actor Hirotaka Matsunaga was supposed to be two weeks away from opening night of “The Swords of Sorrow: BURAI II,” a play set in 1800s Japan. The 39-year-old had been cast as the lead. It was the big break he had been working toward since he moved to the U.S. from Japan more than 20 years ago to pursue his dreams. But his cancer diagnosis and an unsuccessful course of chemotherapy had shut down the play. “Around November 2017, I had acute pain in my stomach for weeks, and it got so bad that it became difficult to eat,” Matsunaga said. After a particularly agonizing dinner, he checked himself into a hospital where doctors found a large mass near his stomach. The mass turned out to be follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Over the next four years, Matsunaga endured two courses of chemotherapy in combination with immunotherapy, but the cancer always returned and eventually transformed into a more aggressive, B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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