December 28, 2014 | by Nicole White
Immunotherapy – unlocking the body’s immune system to fight diseases – is one of the most exciting and promising areas of cancer research and treatment. In the coming year, City of Hope will be opening more clinical trials using an especially powerful type of immunotherapy focusing on T cells. Many of these trials will focus on blood cancers, but not all.
Chimeric antigen receptor – or CAR – T cell therapy is a promising approach to immunotherapy being studied at a handful of centers nationwide, including City of Hope, the only center currently offering clinical trials in California. The trials use a similar approach tailored to each cancer: Patients have their T cells collected from the blood then they are replicated in the lab. The cells are then modified using a lentivirus, a virus that encodes the T cells with specific antigen receptors, allowing them to recognize proteins found on cancer cells. This, researchers say, should trigger the immune system to fight cancer.
Trials using this type of immunotherapy are currently underway at City of Hope for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In the next year, City of Hope plans to roll out trials in brain cancer, breast cancer metastases to the brain, acute myeloid leukemia, and multiple myeloma.
Researchers hope that the T cells will be long-lived in the body and reproduce – allowing them to be effective against the initial cancer, and ready should any relapse or recurrence arise.
“When you get a cold or infection, the immune cells specifically track down and ride the body of infected cells,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., leader of the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplant Institute and director of the T Cell Immunotherapy Laboratory at City of Hope.
Cancers are frequently able to develop properties that trick the immune system into believing they are part of the body itself, but this time, scientists believe they can jump a step ahead of the cancer and restore the body’s natural defenses.
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