One of the greatest challenges in treating brain tumors is finding an effective way to eliminate the entire disease, making sure no cancer cells are left behind, while minimizing damage to healthy brain tissue.
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can help in the short term, but in many cases the cancer eventually returns.
A special form of immunotherapy known as CAR-T cell therapy is showing tremendous promise. It has the potential to harness the body's own natural defenses to destroy brain tumors and prevent it from coming back.
CAR-T cell therapy works with immune cells taken from your bloodstream, which are reprogrammed to recognize and attack a specific protein found in brain tumors, then reintroduced into your system.
The newest form of CAR-T cell therapy, now in clinical trials, uses “memory” T cells which remain in your body after attacking the cancer. The hope is that they then grow into an active reservoir of cancer-killing cells capable of stopping future outbreaks.
Unlike other therapies which can take weeks or months to complete, this form of CAR-T cell therapy is given as a single treatment, with several infusions, with the reprogrammed cells injected directly into the tumor site.
The procedure to create these special cells takes about 40 days. Technicians collect your blood, separate the white cells, enrich them in the laboratory, then add a unique virus to introduce DNA that instructs the T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. These newly reprogrammed cells are then grown to larger numbers, tested for safety, and returned to the patient.
CAR-T cell therapy holds significant promise for people with advanced primary brain tumors, and for patients whose cancer has returned.
This treatment can be administered on an outpatient basis. Thus far, compared to other treatments, CAR-T cell therapy has been shown to be well-tolerated, with few side effects and almost no toxicity. Some patients experience minor headaches, fever or muscle aches which may last a few days. Patients are able to return to their normal lives quickly.
Although CAR-T cell therapy is still being studied for many different types of cancers, it is already showing enormous potential as a treatment for hard-to-treat cancers such as brain tumors. City of Hope clinicians and researchers are continually evaluating and improving this therapy so it can be more effective and accessible for our patients.