Mantle cell lymphoma survivor creates COVID-19-killing computer game

Musician Jeff Blankenship was playing guitar in the orchestra pit during a local theatre’s live production of “American Idiot” when he began experiencing severe stomach pains. “I had to leave in the middle of the show,” he says. “That’s how bad it was.” The pain, he soon learned, was caused by mantle cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Jeff had been diagnosed with and treated for the disease eight years earlier at MD Anderson, where chemotherapy sent the cancer into remission. But now it was back. This time, his oncologist prescribed a newer treatment. “Mantle cell lymphoma is known to relapse and become resistant to chemotherapy,” says Felipe Samaniego, M.D., Jeff’s oncologist. “Clinical trials in recent years have led to newer, non-chemotherapy treatments.” A second remission, thanks to targeted therapy Jeff benefited from one of those new therapies after his relapse. He began taking ibrutinib, a type of targeted therapy drug known as a kinase inhibitor. Kinases are proteins that signal cancer cells to divide and multiply. Ibrutinib blocks these signals, so the cancer cells never get the message to expand their numbers. The treatment put Jeff into remission. It’s been seven years, and he continues to show no signs of cancer. Today, he’s taking a newer kinase inhibitor, acalabrutinib, which causes fewer side effects than ibrutinib in some patients. “I take two pills a day, and I feel great,” he says. “When my medical team asks me to rate my quality of life, I say, ‘Ten, with a capital ‘T.’” Getting revenge against COVID-19 Last year, Jeff retired from his “real” job as a program manager...