Considering CAR-T Cell Therapy for Cancer? There Are 5 Things You Need to Know

There’s a new treatment available for certain types of cancers, and it’s showing promising results. CAR-T therapy uses the body’s own white blood cells to wage war inside the body. It sounds surprisingly simple, but much research, trial, and error have gone into perfecting this treatment that can send some forms of stubborn cancer into remission. Here’s what we know so far.

1. CAR-T Therapy Makes Use of T Cells

Everyone has T cells. These are white blood cells that fight off foreign invaders inside the body. During CAR-T cell therapy, these cells are harvested from an individual, modified to contain a Chimeric Antigen Receptor or CAR, and then released back into the body. Inside, they hunt down cancerous cells and blast them with lethal cytotoxins. In ideal situations, the cancer goes into remission, and the patient gets better.

2. CAR-T Therapy Is a Vast Improvement Over Chemotherapy

CAR-T cell therapy doesn’t work for all patients. At least not yet. But scientists are working hard every day to improve the ways in which this therapy battles cancer. For those patients who do see improvement, this treatment is much preferred over traditional chemotherapy, in part because it’s much faster. While most chemotherapy patients must return for regular treatments over a series of six months or more, CAR-T cell therapy usually requires a hospital stay of two weeks.

3. CAR-T Cell Therapy Has Been Approved by the FDA

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of CAR-T cell therapy in treatment-resistant adults who have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and children who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Right now, these are the only approved cancer applications. However, scientists foresee this form of treatment being used for other illnesses in the future, including mantel cell lymphoma, multiple myeloma, B-cell lymphoma, and acute myeloid leukemia. Recently, the FDA delayed the approval of a new CAR-T therapy called ciltacabtagene autoleucel (cilta-cel).

4. CAR-T Therapy May Have Side Effects

Some patients who receive this cell therapy develop complications. These include Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) and CAR T-cell-related encephalopathy syndrome (CRES). Both can make patients feel very sick, but both are usually temporary. CRS feels like a bad case of the flu. And CRES affects the central nervous system, causing confusion and disorientation. The benefits of CAR-T therapy outweigh the disadvantages, however. And once the side-effects have passed, patients typically feel much better.

5. Results of CAR-T Cell Therapy Can Last for Years

One of the most beneficial aspects of CAR-T cell therapy is that it’s a treatment that stays inside your body and can last for years. This means if cancer cells begin to re-grow, CAR-T cells will still hunt them down and kill them. So far, we know these modified cells can remain active for at least six to 15 months inside the body. But scientists are hopeful they’ll one day discover a permanent way to keep CAR-T cells alive and fighting.

The science of cell therapy has come a long way in the last few years, but it has so many more possibilities. Scientists may have only scratched the surface of what modified cells can do, and it’s exciting to think about what breakthroughs are waiting on the horizon.

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