Have you heard about CAR-T cell therapy? It’s a relatively new treatment option for patients who struggle with chemotherapy-resistant cancers, such as adult or pediatric leukemia. The pharmaceutical company Novartis recently partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to develop CAR-T cell therapy at a commercial level, allowing more patients than ever to benefit from the procedure. This includes patients who might otherwise have a grim outlook regarding recovery.
What Is CAR-T Therapy?
CAR-T cell therapy uses the body’s own white blood cells to fight infection. By harvesting these cells soon after diagnosis and freezing them for future use, doctors and scientists can help patients who can’t produce enough of their own cancer-fighting cells.
In the body, certain cells, called T-cells, are responsible for attacking and killing infected cells that carry cancer proteins. However, someone who has cancer usually doesn’t have enough healthy T cells to fight infection on their own. Therefore, healthy cells are extracted from their body and genetically modified to contain chimeric antigen receptors. These receptors turn regular T cells into CAR-T cells, which then attach to cancerous cells and blast them with fatal cytotoxins.
In other words, white blood cells are removed from the body and modified to become super-cells. Once they’re re-introduced, they hunt down and eradicate cancer-causing cells. It’s a way of fighting cancer from the inside-out, using tissue harvested from the patient, to increase chances of remission.
The CAR-T Therapy Process
Using the method developed by Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania, doctors isolate and extract healthy T-cells from the patient. This process is called leukapheresis. Afterward, the cells are cryopreserved and transferred to a manufacturing facility where the chimeric antigen receptors are added, turning regular T-cells into CAR-T cells. After a brief session of chemotherapy, these new hyper cells are infused back into the patient, where they go to work fighting cancer.
Advantages of CAR-T Cell Therapy
The biggest advantage to this revolutionary treatment is that results are optimistic regarding remission. Many patients who fail to respond well to chemotherapy and medication may still be helped by CAR-T cell therapy. But there are other advantages to this treatment, too:
- Re-infusion can often be done on an outpatient basis, slashing costs and time from hospital stays.
- Outpatient infusion also reduces the risks of developing in-hospital infections.
- CAR-T cell therapy by Novartis is currently available at locations around the globe.
While there may still be complications and side effects caused by CAR-T therapy, the outlook is good for patients who suffer from terminal diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma.
For more information on whether CAR-T cell therapy may be a good option for you or a loved one, talk with your oncologist about the procedure. Currently, treatment is performed on an individualized basis, meaning it may not be the right choice of treatment for everyone. However, for those who are candidates, it may very well mean the difference between life and death. Learn more about T-cell therapy at the National Cancer Institute.