What is CAR T-Cell Therapy?
T cells are a type of white blood cell that search out and kill abnormal cells, bacteria, viruses, and other invaders that the immune system does not recognize. Because cancer cells are the body’s own cells that are growing and dividing out of control, they may evade detection from T cells.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy that reprograms a patient’s own T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
The CAR T-Cell Therapy Process
To manufacture CAR T cells, blood is drawn from the patient and T cells are extracted. The T cells are sent to a specialized laboratory where scientists genetically modify them by adding a special receptor (CAR) that guides the T cells to find and eliminate cancer cells. The newly altered T cells are then multiplied by the millions in the lab and sent back to the hospital.
As this process is occurring, patients receive a short course of low-dose chemotherapy before the modified T cells are infused back into the bloodstream, where they bind to the residual cancer cells and destroy them.
The entire treatment typically takes up to a few weeks. CAR T cells usually reach peak levels about one to two weeks after infusion, and most patients will remain hospitalized for at least a week. Increasingly, however, patients are receiving CAR T therapy entirely in the outpatient setting.
The most common side effect of CAR T-cell therapy is cytokine release syndrome, which indicates the body is mounting an immune response and presents similarly to a severe flu.
CAR T-cell therapy has proved to be a successful treatment option for certain leukemias and lymphomas in many patients who have shown resistance to chemotherapy and have either failed a transplant or aren’t considered a transplant candidate. Clinical trials at Fox Chase and around the world continue to evaluate CAR T-cell therapy in many other types of cancer as well.