Imagine a cancer patient being cured by using their own immune system. Do you think it could happen? Well it is happening. Both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society discuss Immunotherapy on their web sites and in these articles they discuss the success of the trails being performed using this technique.
Immunotherapy is a newer technique being used treat cancer by using the patient’s immune system. Some immunotherapies just boost the patient’s immune system in a very general way but others use cells in the immune system to destroy the cancer cells. The therapies use different immune system cells depending on the cancer and different approaches have been proved more effective for different kinds of cancer. Currently the National Cancer Institute has released an article discussing the use on the immune systems T-cells to attack tumor cells in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in a process called adoptive cell transfers (ACT).
T-cells are the immune system’s defense against cells in the body that have "gone rouge" and become harmful to the body. The T-cells attack the diseased cells to destroy them and remove them from the body. ACT uses these cells by modifying them to increase their productiveness at destroying the specific tumor cells.
The process of modifying the cells starts by drawing blood from the cancer patient. The T-cells are then extracted and modified to have chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These are receptors that allow the cells to be specialized in recognizing and attacking the proteins (antigens) on the tumor cells. The modified T-cells are grown in the laboratory until there are billions of them. The multiplying process can take as long as a month but some researchers have been able to bring this time down to as little as 9 to 14 days. While the T-cells are multiplying they are tested for safety and efficiency before they can be injected back into the patient. Finally the T-cells are injected back into the patient but this is not the end of the process. Just like other cancer treatments the immunotherapy needs to be monitored for safety and effectiveness.
Also like other cancer treatments, immunotherapy has side effects. The most severe side effect to the T-cell treatment is cytokine-release syndrome. Cytokine is released by the T-cells in order to help them complete their duties but when too much cytokine is released into the blood stream it can have very bead side effects. These side effects include high fevers and drops in blood pressure. Researchers have found that, in most cases, the side effects can be handled with supportive therapies like steroids.
So far much of the research into these CAR T-cell therapies have been successful but there are still ongoing trials to research this approach. Some researchers are encouraged by the success of the CAR T-cell therapy and are looking into ways to modify it to help with other cancers. These include modifying the CAR T-cells to attack solid tumors like those in brain cancer.
Personally I was very encouraged by this research and the success that CAR T-cell immunotherapy is having. By using the patient's own person T-cells and modifying them to attack the exact kind of cancer they have in their body is remarkable! Immunotherapy could be the future of cancer treatments by creating a personalized treatment plan unique for every cancer patient!