During the last decade, the use of immunotherapy - a new treatment approach in the field of oncology - has shown very promising results.
This approach is based on the idea that it is possible to fight cancer not only by using "external" technologies such as chemotherapeutic agents and/or radiotherapy, but also by using internal resources, enhancing the ability of the body itself to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
Immunotherapy, as such treatment, uses the body's own immune system to help fight cancer with a variety of technological means. One of them is "CAR T-cell therapy" - a new way to get immune cells called T cells, which have the ability to recognize and destroy abnormal cells, to perform better by reengineering them in the laboratory.
This innovative technology requires several steps: first blood is withdrawn from the patient and the T cells are removed. The remaining blood products are returned back to the patient, while the separated T cells are sent to the laboratory where they are genetically engineered to better recognize and kill cancer cells. Once the collected T cells have been reprogrammed, they are multiplied and when there are enough of them, they are returned to the patient's blood stream having the ability to continue multiplying and fighting the cancer much more effectively.
The initial development of CAR T-cell therapies has focused largely on Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL): according to the results from clinical trials using CAR T-cell therapy in children and young adults with progressing ALL, the signs of cancer disappeared in 80% of the patients treated.
Similar results were demonstrated in another clinical trial: in patients with aggressive lymphoma who did not respond to other treatments, the CAR T-cell therapy slowed or stopped cancer growth in about 80% of the patients, and the cancer completely disappeared in more than 50% of the patients.
Based on these promising results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved these two CAR T-cell therapies.
Research on engineered T-cells is continuing in a swift pace all over the world. A growing number of clinical trials that involve different types of CAR T-cells, targeting various types of malignancies, are now ongoing, aiming to bring new hope to cancer patients whose illness no longer responds to existing therapies or standard treatments.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that CAR T-cell therapy may have serious side effects, which can be life threatening, therefore requiring an intensive and close follow-up.