A New Way to Fight Cancer

Cancer Cell

A new immunotherapy clinical trial is turning patients’ bodies into cancer fighting agents, so far with great success. Doctors involved with the trial believe this is the future of cancer treatment.

For years, the standard cancer treatments have been surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy with mixed results. Int he last ten years new targeted therapies—drugs that target cancer cells by homing in on specific molecular changes seen primarily in those cells—have also emerged as key weapons in the fight against a number of cancers. However a new treatment, immunotherapy, may be on the rise.  These therapies harness the power of a patient’s immune system to combat their disease.

New Cancer Treatment

One approach to immunotherapy involves engineering patients’ own immune cells to recognize and attack their tumors. At the University of Kansas Cancer Center, where the latest trials are taking place, patients are having T-cells taken from them. After collection, the T cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs are proteins that allow the T cells to recognize a specific protein (antigen) on tumor cells. These engineered CAR T cells are then grown in the laboratory until they number in the billions.

The expanded population of CAR T cells is then infused into the patient. After the infusion, if all goes as planned, the T cells multiply in the patient’s body and, with guidance from their engineered receptor, recognize and kill cancer cells that harbor the antigen on their surfaces. And although this approach, called adoptive cell transfer (ACT), has been restricted to small clinical trials so far, treatments using these engineered immune cells have generated some remarkable responses in patients with advanced cancer.

Advancements in Oncology Research

The patients in the current trial at the University of Kansas suffer diffuse large B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — the most common type of lymphoma. CAR T-cell therapy has proven successful in fighting blood cancers and doctors believe it could be adapted to target other cancers like breast and colon.
“Think of ‘Pac-Man’,” Joseph McGuirk, DO, and medical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at The University of Kansas Cancer Center said. “The patient’s re-engineered cells are trained to chase down the cancer and destroy it.”

Patients enrolled in the trial include a 26-year-old mother of two from Atchison, Kan. and a businessman from Australia who relocated his family temporarily for a chance at this cancer trial.  The University of Kansas Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center transforming cancer research and clinical care by linking an innovative approach to drug discovery, delivery and development to a nationally-accredited patient care program. NCI Designation makes this trial possible.

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