What Is CAR T-Cell Therapy? How It Works In 2-Minutes

What Is CAR T-Cell Therapy? How It Works In 2-Minutes

Contributing Author : Gina 

Big Picture 

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. In the U.S., only heart disease ranks above it. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S. in 2021, there will be nearly 2 million new cancer cases and more than 600,000 cancer deaths from all types of cancer combined. However, our individual immune systems have a variety of cells that exist to fight cancers. Ideally, our immune system would attack all cancer cells; However, it does not because cancer cells are able to hide from the body’s immune defenses. As it turns out, our immune system sometimes needs a little help to detect malignancies and in this article, we will show you one way this is done.


The Chimeric Antigen Receptor?

“T cells are taken from a patient’s blood. Then the gene for a special receptor that binds to a certain protein on the patient’s cancer cells is added to the T cells in the laboratory. The special receptor is called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). Large numbers of the CAR T cells are grown in the laboratory and given to the patient by infusion. CAR T-cell therapy is used to treat certain blood cancers, and it is being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer.” Fig 1, below, demonstrates this action.


How CAR T-cells attack cancer cells

Fig. 1: Shutterstock

Producing a CAR T Cell?

To produce a CAR T-cell researchers design a receptor to activate cell killing, create a viral vector to carry the genetic material, grow the million of T cells ex vivo, genetically modify the T cells with the CAR, prepare the patient by making room in the immune system for new cells with a mild chemotherapeutic, and infuse the modified CAR-T cells back into the person’s bloodstream where they will travel to tumor cells. While this basic approach is being used to target cancer, the modification of the immune system is a powerful tool that is being applied in other areas of medicine. Fig 2, below, illustrates the process of CAR T-cell Therapy.

Fig. 2 NIH National Cancer Institute - CAR T-cell Therapy Production through Killing Cancer Cells

Treating Blood Cancers

CAR T-cell therapy is making a tremendous difference in the treatment of certain blood cancers. In the currently approved versions, CAR-T targets all cells expressing CD19, eliminating the cancer along with the other CD19 expressing cells..   These treatments are delivering curative results in the majority of acute refractory patients who receive them. CAR-T has already saved many lives, but the incredible platform underpinning CAR-T promises to be re engineered and refined to create better and better outcomes for patients.


Learn More

What are Cells?



What is CAR T-Cell Therapy

MD Anderson Cancer Center


To learn about the differences between all forms of genomic medicine watch the below video:

What’s the Difference? 

American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT)

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