The new treatment employs the body's immune system, a method known as immunotherapy, to combat cancer. Cancer. This approval marks the first use of gene editing to treat diseases in the United States. For now, the therapy (initially called CAR T-cell immunotherapy and now called Kymriah by Novartis) is approved to treat children and young adults (up to age 25) with a recurrent form of blood cancer called lymphoblastic leukemia acute .
Despite its restricted use, this treatment marks a new era for the treatment of cancer. The therapy is unique and personalized: the cells of each patient are redesigned in a laboratory to fight against cancer and send them to their bodies to get them to work.
Treatment involves removing some T cells, a type of white blood cell, from the patient's blood. Next, the researchers adjust the outside of each cell in the laboratory by adding a receptor called CAR (chimeric antigen receptor). When altered T cells are reintroduced into the body, these receptors help them find and destroy cancer cells.
Traditional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation only target cancer cells and the tumors themselves. You need different types of medicines depending on the type of cancer and, once you stop giving the treatment to the patient, quickly quit the body or stop working. This treatment, and all immunotherapies to some extent, are directed to the person's immune system and used to fight cancer. In theory, it works like a vaccine: once the immune system is forced to fight against unhealthy cells, must continue to fight against them for a lifetime . Anyway, there is still a lot of research to be done.
Is it safe?
But is it a safe therapy? The therapy is not without its dangers. One of the biggest obstacles that doctors and researchers face is managing the immune response that comes with the treatment. When the flu or other type of infection is contracted, fevers and pains do not come from the invading bacteria or virus itself, but from your immune system that accelerates and fights against it. The same thing happens with this treatment (and to a different extent with other immunotherapies).
When a person receives genetically modified T cells, the shaking of their immune system causes extremely high fevers and increases the proteins involved in the inflammation. This can be very dangerous. But if the immune system does not generate this massive response, that means that the treatment is not working . So doctors are now working to find a way to treat and control these side effects without compromising the effectiveness of the treatment.
It's a first step. In principle, all forms of cancer can be attacked by immunotherapies. We just have to figure out how to get treatments to where they should go and how to keep cancer patients safe from their own immune system.