CAR T-Cell Therapy Showing Promise

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CAR T-Cell Therapy Showing Promise

Did you know that a person’s own immune system can be harnessed to treat cancer? Thanks to recent advancements in cancer research, immunotherapy is being called the “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment, joining chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and targeted therapies.

The most advanced immunotherapy treatment is called CAR T-cell therapy, which is a type of immunotherapy known as adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy.

How CAR T-Cell Therapy Works

CAR T-cell therapy is essentially introducing a “living drug” into a patient’s blood. T cells play a critical role in all immune systems and they are the backbone of this therapy.

A patient’s T cells are removed by drawing their blood, then altered in a lab to recognize and attack cancer. The altered T cells are then re-introduced to the patient’s blood through infusion.

CAR in CAR T-cell therapy stands for “chimeric antigen receptor,” which is the special molecule that binds to proteins on a patient’s cancer cells.

The entire process of CAR T-cell therapy is the result of new technology in gene splicing.

Brief History of CAR T-Cell Therapy

Two CAR T-cell therapies were approved by the FDA in 2017. One treats children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the other treats adults with advanced lymphomas.

This approval was the result of many successful trials. In one trial, 27 of the 30 children and young adults being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia had a complete response, meaning all signs of cancer disappeared.

CAR T-cell therapy also showed promise in a trial for adults with blood diseases, with half having a complete response.

Possible Side Effects

As with all cancer treatments, CAR T-cell therapy has side effects.

One of the most frequent is cytokine release syndrome (CRS). Symptoms of CRS include high fevers and drops in blood pressure. While the side effects are dangerous, they are ultimately a sign that the T cells are doing their job. Advancements have been made in anticipating and treating CRS, leading to fewer complications.

Another side effect might be a loss of B cells, potentially compromising a patient’s immune system. However, many patients receive immunoglobulin therapy to compensate, helping them fight off infections.

Looking to the Future

CAR T-cell therapy is currently only used for blood cancers, but researchers are exploring the therapy’s success with solid tumors and other diseases. Results have not been as successful with solid tumors as with blood cancers, but researchers are hopeful that other forms of adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy will show greater promise.