Cancer and the immune system – illustrated! (Part 3: T cell transfer therapies)

In Part 1 and Part 2, we overviewed the natural immune response to cancer, monoclonal antibody therapies, and cancer treatment vaccines. This time we’re talking about taking out a patient’s own anti-tumor cells, equipping them for a good fight, and putting them back in! We call these T cell transfer therapies.

One historical approach has been to isolate a patient’s own anti-tumor T cells that have infiltrated a tumor, culture them in a petri dish to re-awaken them and pump them up (since cancer cells tend to suppress healthy T cells that are trying to fight them).

A more recent approach has been to take out a patient’s T cells (irrespective of whether they specifically recognize the cancer cells), and to genetically engineer them to recognize cancer cells. These cells are then put back into the patient, and they are now programmed to get all fired up when they see their target. How does this work?

Introducing, the “CAR” T cell (“chimeric antigen receptor”):


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