CAR T-Cell Therapy: The Latest Precision Treatment in the Fight Against Cancer
As cancer continues to claim too many lives, doctors and researchers continue to design and develop new treatments to combat the disease. One exciting advancement in precision cancer medicine is CAR T-cell therapy. The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s Joseph McGuirk, DO, division director of hematologic malignancies and cellular therapeutics, provides an introduction.
Q: What is CAR T-cell therapy, and how does it work?
A: CAR T-cell therapy is truly personalized, precision medicine. T cells are the cells within our immune system that protect our bodies from cancers. But sometimes they fail to do this. In this treatment, we extract a patient’s T cells and genetically re-engineer them to do their job properly. We multiply those re-engineered cells and return them to the bloodstream, supercharged to seek and destroy cancer cells.
A single reprogrammed T cell can attack and kill many thousands of cancer cells, and we release millions of modified T cells into patients’ bodies to turn their power against cancer.
Q: Which patients qualify for CAR T-cell therapy, and what kinds of results are they experiencing?
A: CAR T-cell therapy is FDA-approved for to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common leukemia in children and young adults, and diffuse large-cell lymphoma, the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults. Patients who qualify are those who have relapsed and those with disease that does not respond to chemotherapy. These are patients whose survival is numbered in months, not years. CAR T-cell therapy has allowed remission rates of 50-85% for these diseases, when only about 7% of these patients would previously been expected to survive. These results are stunning.
Q: Will CAR T-cell therapy be used to treat additional cancers?
A: The future of CAR T-cell therapy is incredibly exciting. Hundreds of clinical trials are in process to extend the therapy beyond leukemia and lymphoma. Trials are exploring CAR T-cell therapy to treat additional blood cancers, like multiple myeloma. Solid tumors, too, are being studied, with trials evaluating CAR T-cell therapy to treat breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.
Expanding scientific discoveries and new modifications of CAR T-cell therapy are making the treatment safer and more effective. We are in the midst of a revolution in cancer medicine. The future looks truly extraordinary.
Q: Who is Dr. McGuirk?
A: Dr. McGuirk is the division director of hematologic malignancies and cellular therapeutics at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. His areas of expertise include blood and marrow transplantation, cellular therapeutics, hematological malignancies, hematology and medical oncology.