The immune system is made up of a variety of cells and organs that normally protect the body from viruses. Important components of the immune system are blood cells known as T-cells.
T-cells are a type of white blood cells (known as lymphocytes), which have the capacity to recognise and destroy abnormal cells or any cells infected by the virus.
When the body has a new virus or disease, it creates T-cells to fight that specific virus or disease. The body then keeps some in reserve, so that when they come across that virus again, the body can recognise it and attack it immediately.
However, unlike a virus, cancer is our own tissue growing out of control. T-cells have trouble recognising cancer cells as abnormal.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is an innovative approach which involves re-programming T-cells so that they recognise and kill cancer cells.
CAR T-cell therapy is potential treatment for:
How does it work?
The cancer patient first undergoes a series of tests and screening to determine if CAR T-cell therapy is an appropriate treatment option and to ensure that the patient is fit to have CAR T-cell therapy.
If CAR T-cell therapy is suitable, blood is collected from the patient through a process called apheresis. Apheresis is when blood is withdrawn from the body and passed through a machine that separates one or more blood components from the blood. In this case, T-cells are separated out and the remaining blood components are returned to the body.
The extracted T-cells are then sent to a laboratory. In the lab, extra genetic information is added to the T-cells to re-programme them to destroy cancer cells. Proteins known as chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) are added into the T-cells to make them into CAR T-cells, modifying the T-cells to recognise an antigen (protein that stimulates an immune response) on the patient’s targeted cancer cells.
The genetically modified CAR T-cells are grown and multiplied into the millions in the lab and then put back into the same patient by infusion. In the patient’s body, the CAR T-cells target the tumour and start killing cancer cells. They multiply until all cancer cells are gone. CAR T-cells remain in the body for long periods of time and will reactivate if cancer returns, even years later.
The patient is closely monitored by our healthcare team and helped to manage any side effects.