Instead of directly targeting cancer cells, Northside Hospital doctors are indirectly stimulating a patient’s immune system to fight cancer.
“The hopes of immunotherapy have been around for decades in the form of allogenetic stem cell transplantation, in which a related or unrelated donor’s bone marrow or blood is transfused into a patient to cure aggressive blood cancers,” said Dr. Scott Solomon, medical director of Northside Hospital’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Matched Unrelated Donor Program and Stem Cell Processing Laboratory.
“Such transplants represented the first definitive proof of the human immune system’s capacity to cure cancer in patients who have failed all conventional therapies – in the same way newer immunotherapies are allowing us to do similar lifesaving therapies for patients with very difficult to treat cancers,” Solomon said.
“Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is one of the most exciting and most promising cell-based immunotherapies and has just recently been approved by the FDA to treat certain types of relapsed/refractory B-cell lymphomas and acute lymphoblastic leukemia up to the age of 25,” Solomon said. “It is giving hope to patients who previously did not have it.
“CAR T-cell therapy works by taking a patient’s immune cells and genetically modifying them to be better tumor-fighting immune cells. Then, the cells are expanded to great numbers (tens of thousands) in laboratories and prepared for reinfusion back into the patient, where they can find and attack cancer.
“CAR T-cell therapy is available to patients who have failed multiple rounds of conventional therapy. These patients historically have had very poor outcomes, very low chances of even brief remissions and certainly no chances of a cure prior to CAR T-cell therapy. Now many of them are alive months or years after therapy,” Solomon said.