Dr. Guenther Koehne: Linking Miami Cancer Institute clinicians to FIU research
Dr. Gunther Koehne wears many hats. He is the deputy director of Baptist Health South Florida’s Miami Cancer Institute, as well as chief of its Hematologic Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation Program.
In March, he also became a professor and the chairman of the Department of Translational Medicine at Florida International University’s (FIU) Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
However, that same month, Dr. Koehne’s took on even more responsibility upon the arrival of Covid-19, which “turned everything around.”
His primary focus at the pandemic’s onset, he said, was to provide patients in dire need of stem cell transplantations and cancer therapies the treatment they needed. At the same time, however, he used his expertise to develop and lead three clinical trials and one research trial to help treat Covid-19 patients at several levels of viral manifestation, from mild to extremely sick.
The virus’ propensity to severely affect the lungs reminded Dr. Koehne of his work with patients using chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or CAR T-cells, during immunotherapy treatments. During the treatment, patients experience cytokine release syndrome, which causes a rapid failure of the respiratory system.
“I hypothesized that something similar may be happening with Covid-19 patients, and therefore you don’t treat the virus only – if at all – but rather you treat the cytokine release,” he said. “I successfully implemented a clinical trial with stem cells that I knew could reverse the cytokine release and effectively treated three patients who then came off ventilators after a few days of the infusion.”
Other avenues of treatment Dr. Koehne is exploring include using certain drugs associated with cancer treatments, based on their success in dealing with similar symptoms, a collaboration with Dr. Robert Sackstein, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and convalescent plasma therapy using, among others, plasma from a prominent Miamian.
“The mayor here in Miami, [Francis Suarez], was among the first to get sick, and he donated his plasma to treat others,” Dr. Koehne said. “I have an active clinical trial to do that, and we’ve treated 62 patients in a very short period with plasma from donors who were exposed to Covid before.”
Dr. Koehne spoke by phone with reporter Jesse Scheckner.
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