When it came to naming the newest facility at Baptist Hospital, the choice seemed obvious: Hope Tower. The recently opened building adjacent to Miami Cancer Institute is home to the Institute’s inpatient bone marrow and immunotherapy programs. Serving as a symbol for the Institute’s expanding services in cancer care, Hope Tower also holds an optimism for the future.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the building’s opening couldn’t have come at a better time. Spacious rooms on 6 Hope are dedicated to allogeneic stem cell transplant patients ― patients whose survival from various forms of leukemia, multiple myeloma and other blood cancers depends on receiving stem cells from the bone marrow of non-related donors. Because of their compromised immune systems, these patients are particularly at risk for viruses like coronavirus and require sterile environments for care.
Before the donor cells are transplanted, the patient first undergoes chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill as many diseased blood cells as possible. The procedure wipes out their immune system as well. Typically, patients are hospitalized in quarantine for four to six weeks. During that time, donor cells begin to make new, healthy blood cells.
“Baptist Health put significant thought into the design of these rooms,” said Guenther Koehne, M.D., Ph.D., the Institute’s deputy director and chief of Blood and Marrow Transplant, Hematologic Oncology and Benign Hematology. “They are beautiful, and at 400 square feet, the rooms are about three times the size of patient rooms on dedicated bone marrow transplant units elsewhere. Our facilities now match the vision we’ve had of offering a next-generation hospital that is modern and meets the needs of our inpatients.”
The rooms are equipped with refrigerators, microwaves, large bathrooms and space to exercise. When deemed appropriate and safe, a patient’s family member may stay with them. The large rooms help decrease the feelings of isolation and stress that can come from a long hospital stay.
“The patients and their families benefit greatly from the additional space,” Dr. Koehne said. “But so do the physicians and staff. In addition to the most advanced equipment, we are now able to pull our entire team together at one time, from the doctors and nurses to social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists and others, to talk with the patient and family in the room.”
International patients also appreciate having the Hilton Hotel on the hospital campus. With 184 rooms, many equipped for extended stays, the Hilton is ideal for larger families who may accompany their loved ones to Miami Cancer Institute for stem cell transplants and for patients who must remain local upon discharge.
“These are complex procedures and patients are fragile and susceptible to many viruses because of their weakened immune systems,” Dr. Koehne said. “We need them nearby.” Patients are required to stay within 30 minutes of the hospital for about 100 days after discharge.
Miami Cancer Institute’s autologous stem cell transplant program (patients receive their own stem cells) began in November 2018 with the allogeneic program (using stem cells from unrelated donors) following in July 2019.
To date, the transplant service has treated more than 70 patients, of which 30 patients received allogeneic transplants with great success using an innovative method developed to manipulate donor cells in the lab. The new technique, which is performed in the Institute’s state-of-the-art Stem Cell Processing & Immunotherapy Laboratory, has decreased the occurrence of graft-versus-host disease, in which the body thinks its own healthy cells are foreign and attacks them, which can be a serious complication following transplant. It’s a method no one else in the state uses.
With the dedicated inpatient unit, the program will grow, adding more transplant physicians and staff.
In addition to 39 dedicated beds on 6 Hope, an additional 45 private rooms on 5 Hope are used for the treatment of patients with hematologic malignancies as well as for the administration of immunotherapies, such as CAR T-cell therapies.
Recognized as an international authority in the field, Dr. Koehne is researching immunotherapeutic approaches to cancer care using CAR T cells ― created from immune cells to attack cancer cells ― for people with relapsed lymphoma. He is also leading COVID-19 research to test the use of umbilical cord cells and existing cancer medications in treating patients sickest with the virus.