Skip to main content
Philipsburg, PA

A Young Girl Beats Cancer with Immunotherapy

Some parents naturally would think of 'I'm not sure I want my child to be a scientific experiment,' but trying these experimental studies is what leads to breakthroughs.

At only six-years-old, Emily Whitehead was facing a life-threatening recurrence of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. Emily's cancer resisted chemotherapy treatments.

Determined to save their child's life, her parents, Tom and Kari Whitehead, enrolled their daughter in a clinical trial of a new treatment designed to turn Emily's immune system into a powerful weapon against cancer. The treatment, called CAR T cell therapy (CAR stands for "chimeric antigen receptor" and T cells are a type of immune cell that kills virally infected, damaged, or cancerous cells), had never been tested in a child before.

The treatment worked, and Emily's cancer went into complete remission immediately. As of December 2013, more than 18 months since her treatment, Emily remains cancer-free. Her story made national headlines, and helped focus public attention on the potential for cancer immunotherapy to transform cancer treatment as well as the need to continue supporting lifesaving cancer research.

Learn more about Emily's story and how the Cancer Research Institute is helping to advance research that is leading to treatments like the one Emily received.

Special thanks to the Whitehead Family, Dr. Carl June, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Chris Weddle and Abby Drey of the "Centre Daily Times," and The Philadelphia Award.

Video production: Really Useful Media (

Postscript: As of February 2015, Emily is still living cancer-free. You can read about the foundation her family started to support pediatric cancer research here.

Let's spread the word about Immunotherapy! Click to share this page with your community.

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.