20 December 2023

Sheffield cancer patient given “lifeline” thanks to revolutionary new cancer treatment

CAR-T cancer therapy was NHS clinical support worker Abdi Farah’s only chance of survival after all conventional treatment options had been exhausted


  • This time last year NHS clinical support worker Abdi Farah was facing a devastating blood cancer diagnosis
  • Two gruelling bouts of treatments, including a stem cell transplant, were given but they couldn’t keep the cancer at bay
  • Now the 49-year-old has been given the all-clear after becoming one of the first patients in the region to receive revolutionary CAR T-cell therapy at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
  • Unlike chemotherapy, the “living” therapy uses re-engineered cells that attack and kill the cancer to safeguard against it coming back


One of the first patients in the region to receive a revolutionary blood cancer treatment, known as CAR T-cell therapy, has been given the all-clear months after being told he had exhausted all curative treatment options for his aggressive lymphoma.

Abdi Farah, 49, said he had been given a “lifeline” by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals thanks to the new form of cancer treatment.

Abdi is only the ninth person treated in the South Yorkshire region with the breakthrough treatment, which was his only hope of survival following a devastating diagnosis of aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma that could not be kept at bay despite two bouts of gruelling treatments, including a stem cell transplant.

Now a recent scan has confirmed that the re-engineered CAR T-cells, which he received on the 11 September, have eradicated all cancer cells from his body.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals became a designated CAR T-cell therapy centre in November last year.

CAR T-cell cancer therapy involves reprogramming the patient’s own immune system to attack their cancer. The highly complex treatment, which has shown remarkable results in some patients with blood cancer, is delivered over the course of several steps. The first step involves removing a type of immune system cell, called a T-cell, from the patient’s blood. Those cells are then sent away to a laboratory where they are given new instructions and made into a CAR T-cell. Once given back to the patient, the re-engineered cells track down and target the cancer cells for destruction. Unlike chemotherapy, this is a “living” therapy, with the goal that the CAR T-cells remain in the body for as long as possible, trying to safeguard against the cancer coming back.

Normally fit and healthy, Abdi who works as a clinical support worker in the NHS, started to experience fever and pain in the left side of his tummy while on holiday in December 2022 – but he put the pain down to muscle ache. With all the normal remedies not seeming to have an effect, he visited his GP on his return home, feeling lethargic and struggling to walk.

“I could barely manage the short, two-minute walk from my house to the GP surgery. I didn’t feel normal.”

His GP ordered some investigations, and after finding very abnormal blood results, he underwent further tests and received the devastating news that lymphoma had been found involving his lymph nodes and bone marrow.

Abdi, who has worked in the NHS for 23 years, who said he felt “dreadful” last Christmas and had to stay in hospital with high fevers, started intensive chemotherapy treatment in January and also had a stem cell transplant, using his own stem cells in April.

Three weeks later Abdi, was able to go home, but a month later, in June, he noticed some lumps on his tummy and leg, with a subsequent PET scan confirming the cancer had returned aggressively.

“The scan was bad news - the cancer had come back. I was told I wouldn’t survive without the CAR T-cell therapy because all other treatments had been exhausted.”

CAR T-cell therapy, which Sheffield Teaching Hospitals had just begun to offer to patients, was the only licensed option in this scenario that offered a realistic chance to cure him, and without it he had just weeks to live.

“The actual infusion of the CAR T-cells is actually less than 30 minutes, but I had to have my white cells taken from my blood first, and then the cells were sent to a European-certified laboratory where they were re-engineered before they were given back to me. It took a few weeks to get everything prepared.

On the 9 October, 10 months after his diagnosis and his rollercoaster journey, he received the news that his cancer was in the “all clear”.

“It seemed like a miracle. I felt over the moon, and I had been given a lifeline. I had another chance to live another day. CAR-T has given me hope, and I am so thankful to the team at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.”

Dr Philippa Kelsey, Consultant Haematologist, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who looked after Abdi, said: "CAR-T is an innovative, personalised cancer treatment and a big step forward in treatment for patients with specific blood cancers. The evidence for CART-T cells in patients like Abdi, who have no other treatment options, shows that between 50-80% of people will respond to this treatment. Life expectancy without treatment can be a matter of months, with treatment this is expected to be at least one year but with the chance of cure in patients who respond well."

Dr Nick Morley, Consultant Haematologist and Haematology Clinical Director, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We became a designated national specialist centre for CAR T-cell cancer therapy last year, and have been delivering the innovative treatment in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant to patients in South Yorkshire, Bassetlaw, Chesterfield and beyond. CAR-T has shown amazing results in some patients with blood cancer so we are delighted that patents like Abdi have responded so well.”

Abdi now hopes to use his experiences to help other patients.

NHS Blood and Transplant support the delivery of CAR-T in Sheffield, with patients having their T-cells removed from their blood at the specialist health authority’s therapeutic apheresis unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Once the cells are engineered into a ‘living drug’, they are also stored at the NHS Blood and Transplant’s specialist cellular and molecular therapy laboratory in Barnsley until they are ready to be given back to the patient.

Information about NHS England designated CAR-T therapy centres can be found here.


Photo: Abdi Farah outside the Royal Hallamshire Hospital following the amazing news that there were no longer any signs of cancer in his body



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