Stephenson Cancer Center unveils ‘revolutionary’ new treatment

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2019 By: Steve Metzer Source: The Journal Record

A “serial killer” compared to a mythological fire-breathing beast is about to be unleashed to cut down millions of cancer cells in patients treated at the

Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine.

Physicians at the center in Oklahoma City held a press conference on Wednesday to announce what they described as a revolutionary new treatment to be offered to patients battling blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. CAR-T therapy, they said, will equip a patient’s immune system with cells re-engineered to relentlessly hunt down and kill cancer cells.

Dr. Adam Asch, chief of the center’s Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, said the acronym CAR-T refers to chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy. It will involve several steps, including an initial visit by a patient to the Oklahoma Blood Institute. There, blood will be drawn and T-cells – cells like soldiers that fight disease – will be filtered out. The T-cells will then be sent to another location to be injected with a gene with a “chimeric antigen receptor” that’s known to bind itself to cancer cells. After the new CAR-T cells are generated, they’ll be reintroduced to the patient in almost the same manner as a blood infusion, and the cell soldiers will go to work killing cancer cells.

“It’s an immune therapy in which we’re harnessing our own cells to recognize cancer cells,” Asch said.

Dr. George Selby, who directs the Stephenson Center’s Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, said it’s interesting that the word “chimeric” was chosen to describe the reengineered cells that will give a patient’s immune system new strength and ability to fight cancer.

“A chimera is a mythological fire-breathing animal that has the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent. In biology, we talk about a chimera because it’s one living thing that’s made out of two living things,” he said. “This is really a rebooting of the immune system to fight cancer … to work as a sentry to protect us from a malignancy.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved CAR-T therapy to treat malignancies that affect the blood, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen and liver, after more conventional treatments, including stem cell transplant, have failed.

Selby said CAR-T will be a treatment option beginning this week for adult patients battling advanced leukemias and lymphomas at the Stephenson Center. Within a few months, it will be available at the Jimmy Everest Center at the Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma. Patients who have not responded well to other forms of treatment in the past may have had little hope for getting past cancer. CAR-T not

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