Each year, 12.7 million people learn that they have cancer. Nearly everyone is affected by this disease which knows no boundaries. Cancer is defined as a group of diseases that involve abnormal cell growth with the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Today, a cancer diagnosis is curable in many people with early detection and treatment.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T therapy is a newer and promising cancer treatment offering hope to people diagnosed with blood cancer. The therapy works to combat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells, and multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved two CAR-T cell therapies, one to treat children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the other for adults with advanced lymphomas. Treatment is now being tested on denser tumors in women diagnosed with breast cancer and for patients with glioblastoma, aggressive brain tumors.
In an article previously published by the Association of Mature American Citizens, the therapy is explained. “The process begins with collecting a sample of the patient’s own T-cells – the “fighters” of the body that prompt the immune system response. After being collected, these T-cells are altered to become chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or simply CAR T. The altered CAR T-cells are then injected back into the patient’s body, where they enter the bloodstream and multiply. Within the blood, the CAR T-cells find and destroy dangerous cancer cells, particularly B-cell maturation proteins, which have been found to play a major role in the progression of multiple myeloma.”
In the past, cancer patients faced limited treatment options. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were the standard. Recently, the development of CAR T-cell therapy has shown great promise. In clinical trials, patients with advanced blood cancers were among the first to be tested. Fortunately, they achieved remarkable responses to the therapy. Per ashclinicalnews.org, “In an ongoing Phase I trial of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in patients with relapsed/refractory myeloma, 33 out of 35 patients achieved complete response (CR) or very good partial response (VGPR) for a clinical remission rate of 94%.”
CAR T therapy is highly regarded as a revolutionary cancer immunotherapy to fight and destroy cancer cells. Per cancer.org, the process can take a few weeks. The cells are removed from the patient’s blood during a two to three-hour procedure called leukapheresis. The patient will lie down or recline during the procedure. Two IV lines are used; one removes blood while the other returns blood to the body. After the white blood cells are removed from the patient, the T-cells are then separated and sent to a lab for genetic altering. Once there are enough CAR T-cells, they are given back to the patient. Before that time, some patients receive chemotherapy to reduce the number of other immune cells to help the CAR T-cells work optimally. The CAR T-cells will bind to the cancer to destroy more cancer cells.
As the CAR T-cells multiply, some patients can encounter serious side effects. Symptoms may include high fever, dangerously low blood pressure, weakened immune system, infections, neurotoxicity, and in some cases, death. However, in numerous cases, the symptoms were reported as temporary. For patients with cancer that fails to respond to other therapies, the benefits of this treatment are likely to outweigh the risks. Current research is underway to develop CAR T-cells that are safer and to reduce costs of the expensive therapy. Per Cancer.gov, immunotherapy pioneer Steven Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Surgery Branch at NCI’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR) shared, “In the next few years, I think we’re going to see dramatic progress and push the boundaries of what many people thought was possible with these adoptive cell transfer-based treatments.”