Researchers have developed a breakthrough in cancer treatment known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. This promising form of immunotherapy attacks cancerous cells in the body. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CAR T-cell treatments for patients with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma.
What is CAR T-cell therapy?
Immunotherapy is a treatment for diseases like cancer. It works in two ways:
CAR T-cell therapy is the second type of immunotherapy: It activates a specific immune response.
What are T-cells?
T-cells are white blood cells that serve as the front line of the body’s immune defense system. In CAR T-cell therapy, doctors collect a blood sample from the patient and isolate the T-cells.
Scientists genetically modify the T-cells to equip them with a chimeric antigen receptor that seeks out a specific protein found on the surface of some cancer cells. The genetically modified T-cells find and destroy cancer cells that have the protein — including certain leukemia and lymphoma cells.
How effective is CAR T-cell therapy?
The FDA has approved the therapy for patients whose leukemia or lymphoma is not responding to traditional treatment. It is also approved if they have a relapse following what appeared to be a successful treatment. The level of success after a single session of CAR T-cell therapy is impressive:
Though more studies are needed to determine long-term remission rates, the above rates of remission indicate 79 percent of patients are still alive 12 months after treatment. This rate is far higher than doctors expect of standard treatments.
What are the side effects of CAR T-cell therapy?
Some patients may experience side effects with this form of immunotherapy, including:
Research paves the way for further CAR T-cell therapy breakthroughs
While CAR T-cell therapy is currently only approved for two types of blood cancers, research continues to determine if it can be used to treat other types of cancers.
Scientists at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center were instrumental in the initial studies that led to the 2017 FDA approval of CAR T-cell therapy. They are exploring future uses through several ongoing clinical trials. Patients who participate in CAR T-cell clinical trials at UCLA Health:
Besides exploring new uses for the therapy, scientists are also investigating strategies to reduce and ease related side effects.