Local hospital explains revolutionary CAR T-cell immunotherapy for cancer patients

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SAN ANTONIO – There’s a breakthrough therapy for treating patients with blood cancer called CAR T-cell immunotherapy.

Dr. Paul Shaughnessy, medical director of the Adult Blood and Marrow STEM Cell Transplant Program at Methodist Hospital, explains the therapy and how exactly it works.

How does it differ from other forms of cancer therapy?

“This immune therapy is much more directed, as much more specific to attack just the cancer cell and direct our immune system to fight cancer and our immune systems recognize and fight cancer all the time,” said Shaughnessy. “But this gives that extra boost to our immune cells to recognize this cancer that’s growing in the body unchecked and can really direct the immune system to fight cancer even more powerfully than chemotherapy.”

CAR T-cell immunotherapy

CAR T-cell immunotherapy is a new therapy that programs a patient’s immune system to recognize and fight cancer. The immune system is responsible for ridding the body of abnormal cells that are foreign (like cancer) or infected.

T-lymphocytes (T-cells) are a type of cell responsible for killing abnormal cells. During the CAR T-cell treatment process, T-cells are drawn from a patient’s blood and genetically modified to recognize the patient’s cancer cells when reinfused.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, a patient’s white blood cells are collected through a process called apheresis.
  • Then, the T-cells are isolated from other blood cells.
  • T-cells are then modified in a special facility to program them to recognize the cancer cells, which can be thought of as “fighter” T-cells.
  • Lastly, the new “fighter” T-cells are re-infused into the patient to target and kill cancer.

Doris Franke, former educator and patient, shared her experience receiving CAR T-cell immunotherapy after qualifying for the therapy after two unsuccessful cancer therapies.

“It meant the world to me gave me an opportunity to have a longer period of remission so that I can enjoy my family, my grandchildren, this beautiful world, all kinds of activities that I’m so grateful that I was chosen to be part of this trial,” said Franke. “It was like a miracle. After I received the treatment, I had a reaction when I was in the hospital for several weeks, I came out of that and I just started getting better. After that, I felt good. I gained back my energy.”

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