A Closer Look at CAR-T Cell Therapy

The immunotherapy is one of the most promising new cancer treatments around

Illustration by Jennifer Madole.

Cancer research is constantly yielding improved treatments for many types of the disease. One of the most promising new treatments developed in the last several years is Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell, or CAR T-cell, therapy.

CAR T-cell therapy is an immunotherapy, meaning it harnesses the body’s immune system to combat cancer cells. This particular immunotherapy makes use of the body’s T-cells, a type of white blood cell crucial to the immune system. T-cells detect and destroy harmful cells, but they are often unable to detect certain kinds of cancer cells. Using genetic engineering, researchers have found a way to help them out.

In CAR T-cell therapy, a patient’s own T-cells are removed from the body and taken to a lab where they are modified to produce synthetic cell receptors, called chimeric antigen receptors (CAR). These receptors allow T-cells to recognize and attack cancer cells when they are reintroduced to the patient’s body.

The new therapy is already being used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and may also be a helpful treatment for multiple myeloma. Experts view it as one of the most promising new cancer treatments around — the therapy was named the 2018 Advance of the Year by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

In order to improve efficacy, and lower possible side effects, the treatment is still undergoing clinical trials. But if the trials are successful, it is set to become more common in the coming years.

A Vital Investment
There are many types of immunotherapy treatment. In partnership with the Li Ka Shing Virology Institute at the University of Alberta, the Alberta Cancer Foundation has invested $2.4 million in support of the advancement of immunotherapy research.

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