What is CAR T-cell therapy?

CAR T-cell therapy, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, is a type of treatment that harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer.  This innovative cancer therapy involves modifying a patient’s T-cells to express receptors that recognize cancer cells, which are then multiplied and infused back into the patient to initiate a targeted immune response against the cancer.

This treatment has shown effectiveness in treating certain blood cancers but carries risks such as severe immune reactions that need careful monitoring. Here’s how it generally works:

1. Collection of T-cells: T-cells are a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in the immune response. To begin CAR T-cell therapy, doctors first collect T-cells from the patient’s blood through a process called leukapheresis.

2. Genetic modification: In the laboratory, these collected T-cells are genetically modified to produce special receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface. These CARs are designed to recognize specific proteins (antigens) that are found on cancer cells.

3. Cell multiplication: Once modified, these CAR T-cells are multiplied in the lab to create a large batch of them. This process can take several weeks.

4. Infusion: The multiplied CAR T-cells are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream. Once in the body, these CAR T-cells can recognize and attach to cancer cells that have the targeted antigen on their surface.

5. Cell destruction: When the CAR T-cells attach to the cancer cells, they become activated and initiate a series of immune responses that can lead to the destruction of the cancer cells. This can involve direct killing of the cancer cells by the CAR T-cells, as well as triggering other immune cells to attack the cancer.

CAR T-cell therapy has shown remarkable effectiveness in treating certain types of blood cancers, such as certain types of leukemia and lymphoma. It represents a significant advancement in the field of cancer treatment, especially for patients whose cancers have not responded to traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, it is a complex and potentially risky treatment that requires careful monitoring and management of side effects, which can include cytokine release syndrome and neurologic toxicity.

Share this article