There’s a new weapon in the war against cancer, and its source is found within the patient’s own body. CAR-T therapy is a type of immunotherapy that beefs up the body’s own white blood cells to prepare them for battle. And while research and trials into this innovative form of treatment are still in the early stages and ongoing, results have been optimistic so far.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Cell Engineering Pioneers the Way 

Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Cell Engineering in New York City are at the forefront of CAR-T therapy as they continue to develop and implement this life-altering treatment for patients who suffer from certain forms of cancer, such as lymphoma and leukemia.

Michel Sadelain, Director of MSKs Center for Cell Engineering; Isabelle Riviere, Director of MSKs Cell Therapy and Cell Engineering Facility; and Renier Brentjens, a medical oncologist, are leading the charge by extracting patients’ own white blood cells and genetically modifying them before returning them to the body. The targeted result is a full remission from cancer that’s been resistant to other forms of treatment.

CAR T Cell Therapy Produces Promising Results

CAR is an acronym for Chimeric Antigen Receptor, and T cells are types of white blood cells — the ones usually reserved for fighting off infection. Using CAR-T therapy, scientists in effect “arm” cells by adding a T cell receptor that can identify and target certain proteins, such as those that contribute to cancer. While everyone has white blood cells, only some are classified as T cells. These cells are special because they contain that extra defense mechanism that’s capable of killing hostile invaders.

During CAR T cell therapy, doctors remove white blood cells and turn them into T cells. When these cells are reintroduced into the body, they destroy their intended targets — cancerous proteins.

T Cells Target Infected Red Blood Cells

A T cell, with its T-cell receptor, can tell the difference between a healthy red blood cell and a red blood cell that contains virus antigens on its surface. When it comes near an infected cell, it can attach to that cell and release a cytotoxin to kill it. However, each T cell can only target one type of antigen. This means it must find the one type of antigen it’s capable of destroying, connect with that one infected cell, and blast it with cytotoxin. It’s like a lock-and-key situation, where the T cells are keys that only open one type of deadbolt.

Through CAR T cell therapy, scientists can alter white blood cells, turning them into cancer-hunting T cells, which are then released back into the body.

CAR T Cell Therapy Offers Hope for Treatment-Resistant Disease

Currently, CAR-T therapy is reserved for patients who haven’t responded well to other forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy. It may mean the difference between life and death, as some cases conclude with the patient healthy and in full remission. Usually, this is the end result of CAR T cell therapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant.

While treatment can be a lengthy process that requires an extended hospital stay, Car T cell therapy appears to be a viable solution in the battle against cancer.