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CAR-T therapy: Genetically re-engineering your cells to target cancer

What if we could treat cancer with limited chemotherapy, radiation and surgery?

Thanks to years of research in the field of immunotherapy, for some patients, that hypothetical may now be a reality.

Immunotherapy uses a patient’s own immune system to fight off or prevent disease. This approach enhances or trains a patient’s white blood cells to attack other cells in the body carrying a specific disease. One of the most exciting and promising advancements in cancer treatment to date is a type of immunotherapy called Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell therapy, or CAR-T. CAR-T therapy allows clinicians to reprogram a patient’s cells to detect and destroy specific cancer cells.

But what exactly is CAR-T, and could it really revolutionize the way we approach cancer care?

How CAR-T therapy works

CAR-T is a personalized therapy in which the white blood cells, also called T cells, are removed from the body.

Once collected, the T cells are infused with a protein that enables them to recognize the cells for very specific forms of cancer. The modified cells then go through a manufacturing process over the course of several weeks to create millions of these re-programmed CAR-T cells.

Once the manufacturing process is complete, patients have the cells infused back into their bloodstream where they go to work attacking and destroying their cancer.

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As opposed to chemotherapy or radiation, which require multiple treatments or doses, CAR-T is a one-time, “living” therapy. Once re-introduced to the body, the reprogrammed cells multiply, attack the cancer and help guard against reoccurrence.

“This could be a game-changing treatment for patients whose cancer has not responded to other treatment options,” said Yair Levy, MD, medical director of hematologic malignancy clinical research at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health.

The future of cancer care

We’re still in the beginning phases of treating patients with CAR-T, but early results for this next generation therapy are promising.

Earlier this month, Baylor Scott & White began offering an FDA-approved CAR-T therapy specifically for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most aggressive and common forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Additionally, there are a number of other clinical trials underway at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute to test the use and viability of this treatment on other forms of cancer.

“This is a completely different way of treating cancer and early results have shown it to be one of the most potent therapies ever tested for these patients,” said Houston Holmes, MD, principal investigator for the CAR-T clinical trials and oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center.

As the rapidly-emerging field of immunotherapy continues to develop, CAR-T therapy is at the forefront. The hope is that one day this treatment will become the standard for cancer care, giving hope to the millions diagnosed with cancer every year.

Learn more about CAR-T therapy and ongoing research at Baylor Scott & White Health.

About the author

Grace Glausier
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Grace Glausier is a senior digital engagement strategist for Baylor Scott and White Health. A graduate of Baylor University, she is passionate about connecting people through powerful stories and empowering individuals toward better health.

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CAR-T therapy: Genetically re-engineering your cells to target cancer