In a recent interview with KIRO 7, Gary Gilliard, president of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, talked about the success they are having with CAR T cell immunotherapies for some metastatic cancers.
The Hutch has long been a leader in immunotherapy research and has made many lifesaving discoveries harnessing the power of the immune system in fighting cancer. But their recent success with CAR T cell therapies is especially promising to cancer researchers.
How CAR T Cells Work
The patient’s own T lymphocytes are collected from the body and genetically modified to add chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). Once reintroduced to the body, the new CAR T cells will multiply, recognize the specific antigen in the tumor cells, and begin to attack and kill the cancer. Thus, your body is fighting the cancer with its own immune cells.
Improvements on Current Treatment Options
Cancer is commonly treatment with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, each with side effects and complications.
Immunotherapy with CAR T cells offers a more natural form of cancer treatment, although it does require a small amount of chemotherapy to lower the patient’s lymphocyte count to be able to accept the new CAR T cells into their system. However, the required dosage of chemo is small, which shouldn’t leave the patient with any of the typical side effects.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While the Hutch’s trials have been promising, the results have only been demonstrated at a small scale and are dependent on the form of blood cancer. Response rates in patients with lymphoblastic leukemia are over 90%, while only 50% of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients responded to the therapy.
The Hutch is now working to learn more about who responds to the therapy and who doesn’t while also advancing the therapy from blood cancers to other more common types of cancer.