The patients had failed to respond to many different traditional therapies. Yet two of the three patients experienced miraculous recoveries after Dr. June and his team gave them infusions of their own doctored white blood cells. Seven years later they remain cancer-free. The third patient died after showing improvements, though might have been saved had the treatment begun earlier.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2011, opened the field of cancer immunotherapy. “It was a tipping point,” recalls the 64-year-old Dr. June. “There was an amazing outpouring because we showed for the first time that it could work.”

And it worked spectacularly well—more than 90% of pediatric patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in a subsequent clinical trial went into remission after being infused with Dr. June’s CAR T-cells (the acronym stands for “chimeric antigen receptor”).