New therapy supercharges patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells

blood in a vial
CAR-T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cell. T cells are one type of white blood cell. Their job is to coordinate the immune system’s attack on germs that invade the body and make us sick.

While chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and immunotherapy are the treatment options used most often for cancer patients, a new technique that may offer the most effective way to eradicate cancer cells comes from inside the patient’s own body.

“The immune system has the potential to overcome a tumor’s resistance to treatment,” said Dr. Vamsi Kota, director of the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Augusta University Health and the Georgia Cancer Center. “We take a patient’s T cells, a subtype of white blood cells, and teach them to recognize a piece of a cancer cell that is unique to that type of cancer.”

This method of attacking cancer is called CAR-T therapy. CAR-T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cell. T cells are one type of white blood cell. Their job is to coordinate the immune system’s attack on germs that invade the body and make us sick. Unfortunately, once the first cancer cell develops, it means that patient’s immune system already is not working correctly.

“When a patient has cancer, the immune system, for some reason, is not detecting the cancer and attacking it,” said Kota, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. “CAR-T manipulates the immune system by taking the T cells out of the body. You modify them to target cancer and then you put them back into the patient.”

The first step in the process is removing a person’s T-cells from their body. Then, those cells are sent to a lab where they are modified to make the CAR-T cell. Once a large collection of CAR-T cells has been created, they are transfused back into the patient’s body. Not only does the CAR-T cell kill cancer cells already inside a person’s body, but it also programs their immune system to recognize the tumor and prevent any future growths.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration has approved CAR-T therapy for some blood cancers, including some forms of leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. There are also clinical trials underway to see if it could be a treatment option for many other cancers.

“The reason I’m so excited is that using CAR-T is designed to help patients who have failed other forms of treatment and have compromised immune systems,” Kota said. “During our trainings to bring this therapy to the patients in this area, I’ve been amazed by the commitment the entire Augusta University Health team has towards bringing new therapies to our patients. We should never forget that helping patients heal is the reason we get up and come to work every day.”

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Written by
Chris Curry

Chris Curry is the Communications Coordinator for the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-799-8841 or chrcurry@augusta.edu.

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Written by Chris Curry

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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