2019 October POINT!

Stephenson Cancer Center offers new immune therapy

A revolutionary new treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune cells to fight tumors is being offered at the Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine. Called CAR T-cell therapy, the treatment has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and will be offered in Oklahoma only at the Stephenson Cancer Center. Its initial use is for two different blood cancers, one affecting children and the other affecting adults. “CAR T is a major breakthrough for patients who have not improved with standard treatments,” said George Selby, M.D., director of the Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program at the Stephenson Cancer Center. “It is an immune therapy in which we’re harnessing our own cells to recognize cancer cells. That’s what a normal immune system does – it acts in a surveillance capacity so that when a malignant cell arises, it is killed by our immune system. CAR T is a way of ‘rebooting’ the immune system when it has failed.” CAR T initially will be used to treat advanced lymphomas in adults. In the coming months, physicians anticipate offering similar treatment for acute lymphoblastic lymphoma in children and young adults.

In both cases, patients must have failed to respond to standard chemotherapy or stem cell transplant. CAR T stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy. Patients being treated with CAR T will first have their blood collected at the Oklahoma Blood Institute in a process that is similar to a typical blood donation. T cells, a type of white blood cells involved in immunity, are filtered out and the plasma and red cells are returned to the patient. The T cells are then sent to a company that injects them with the gene for a chimeric antigen receptor, which is known to bind itself to cancer cells and activate the T cell. This process allows the newly engineered T cells to recognize and attack cancer with remarkable efficiency. Once the CAR T cells are generated, they are shipped back to the Stephenson Cancer Center and given to the patient through an IV, much like a blood transfusion. “Until the advent of CAR T, if a patient’s tumor came back after a stem cell transplant, their options were very limited, if they existed at all,” Selby said. “This is a major breakthrough for those patients for whom standard treatment has not been successful.”

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