Daily Archives: May 4, 2021
While it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, a cancer treatment in which a patient’s own cells are engineered to hunt down and wipe out their disease — and then linger in the body to stop the cancer returning — is helping to save patients’ lives. The results of the treatment, known as CAR T-cell therapy, have been astonishing. Patients who had exhausted all other options and been told they had just months to live have gone into remission. Others have even been cured by the one-off dose.
In trials, all signs of cancer disappeared in more than 80 per cent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia — the most common cancer in children — after receiving CAR T-cells. Success stories include Emily Whitehead, now 16, who in 2012 became the first child in the world to take part in a CAR T-cell trial. Emily, who only had weeks to live when her leukaemia became resistant to conventional therapies, had the revolutionary treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the U.S. when she was six years old. She is still cancer-free today.
First given in the NHS two years ago to children with a rare blood cancer, CAR T-cell therapy is now used to treat four forms of the disease — and more could follow. It is also being trialled in a number of other blood cancers, such as myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and could be available soon for these patients. Early research suggests it can also tackle solid tumours. A new study showed that a new generation of CAR T-cells with more advanced genetic engineering could help treat mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma in mice, without side-effects, reported the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The current uses of CAR T-cell therapy are ‘just the tip of the iceberg’, says Dr Andrew Furness, a consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. ‘Doctors and scientists are working tirelessly to expand its reach to many more patients.’
CAR T-cell therapy (or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy) is a form of immunotherapy, using the power of a patient’s immune system to fight the disease.