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Immunotherapy: The CAR T-cell therapies that are curing cancer

In some cases, it is now possible to genetically engineer the immune system to banish cancers like T-cell leukaemia that were previously unresponsive to treatments


31 January 2023

T-cells and brain cancer cell. Composite coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of T-cells and an apoptotic brain cancer cell. T-cells are a component of the body's immune system. CAR T-cell therapy takes T-cells from a cancer patient's blood and modifies them to recognize a specific protein found on patient's tumor cells. When reintroduced to the patient the T-cells find and destroy the tumour cells. The newest form of CAR T-cell therapy, now in clinical trials, uses 'memory' T-cells which remain in the body after attacking the cancer. The hope is that memory T-cells may provide an active reservoir of cancer-killing cells capable of stopping further tumours. Magnification: x6000 at 10cm wide.

T-cells and brain cancer cell. Composite coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of T-cells killing a brain cancer cell.


ONE of the most amazing things about the immune system is how hard it works without you even being aware. It not only fights off bacteria and viruses every day, it also kills off most cancers long before they become a threat. But sometimes cancers manage to dodge the immune system – and a number of cancer therapies rely on restoring its effectiveness. An emerging star is CAR T-cell therapy, which has produced dramatic results for some cancers when all the usual treatments have failed.

This incredible technology relies on T-cells, immune cells that patrol our body, killing infected or cancerous cells. T-cells detect their targets with a receptor that protrudes from their surface and binds to a target protein, or a displayed fragment of a protein, on the outside of other cells. What this means is that if you add the right receptor to T-cells, you can make them target anything you want, including a cancer.

To achieve this, a person’s own T-cells are extracted and genetically modified to express a “chimeric antigen receptor”. This artificial receptor is made up of three proteins, one that recognises the cancer cell target and two that boost the T-cells’ activity.

Doctors multiply these cells and return them to their owner, where they seek out and destroy cells that have the target protein.

With a few of the first people treated still remaining free of cancer a decade later, it can now be said that, in some …

Source link Immunotherapy is emerging as one of the most promising treatments for cancer, and among its most advanced applications is the use of engineered T-cells – genetically modified immune cells that can target and attack cancer cells. The technique, known as Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, has proven to show remarkable results in several clinical trials and is gaining traction as an important new tool in the battle against cancer.

CAR T-cell therapy is based on the concept of using a patient’s own cells, in this case the T-cells, to carry out an immune response against the cancer. These T-cells are removed from the patient, genetically modified, then reintroduced into the patient’s bloodstream. Once in the body, the CAR T-cells seek out and attach to specific proteins expressed on the surface of the cancer cells, and then initiate an immune response to destroy them. This approach is showing promise in certain types of cancer, such as leukaemia, with some trials demonstrating significant improvements in survival rates.

CAR T-cells are not only safer than some other treatments, but they can also be effective in cases where the cancer has become resistant to more traditional approaches such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Studies have also shown that CAR T-cells can remain in the body for months or even years, meaning that the immune response can continue over a longer period of time, providing an even more effective course of treatment.

While CAR T-cell therapy still has many years of development and clinical trials ahead, the current results look promising and the technique is showing great potential as an important new weapon against cancer. Its use has already transformed the way that some cancers are treated, and studies are continuing to demonstrate highly encouraging outcomes. It is a technology that shows much promise, and one that may soon bring hope to many more cancer patients.

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