UH is helping to create a breakthrough in CAR-T cell therapy for cancer patients
CLEVELAND — Researchers at University Hospitals’ Seidman Cancer Center have discovered a way to get life-saving therapy to cancer patients faster than ever before.
They found a way to produce CAR-T cells for immunotherapy treatment within 24 to 48 hours, which is a big difference from the previous 5-8 weeks.
dr. Koen van Besien, head of hematology at Seidman, CAR-T cell therapy is a way to manipulate and reprogram the body’s cells to attack cancer cells.
“CAR-T cells are cells that are taken from patients, altered in the lab, manipulated in the lab to implant a receptor that allows them to better recognize cancer,” he said.
Those patients then receive an infusion of their modified cells.
“When everything goes well, the cells start to grow, recognize the cancer and destroy it,” he said.
The treatment is effective for patients with lymphoma and leukemia, but previously the time from the laboratory to the patient was too long.
“One of the limitations is that it takes between three and five weeks to produce these cells,” said Dr. van Besien. “Patients with leukemia, in particular, but also some forms of lymphoma and myeloma are quite sick and cannot wait for them that long.”
Jack and Judi Boyle, of Mogadore, know well that time is of the essence.
In 2018, they had big plans for the future and life in retirement.
“We love cruises, transatlantic cruises,” said Judi.
But they weren’t planning on a devastating diagnosis. At the time, 65-year-old Jack went for a routine doctor’s appointment and opted for a full-body scan.
“A day later I got a call that we found something, a mass on the right side of your neck,” he recalled.
He had an aggressive form of follicular lymphoma. The two of them entrusted his care to the doctors at the University Hospitals and to God.
“I look at it this way, we’re on this bus now and God is driving the bus and we’re going where he leads us and that’s been our attitude ever since,” said Judi.
For more than 4 years, he tried different treatments: multiple rounds of chemotherapy, oral drugs, radiation, stem cell transplant. But nothing worked.
“We would always scan pets to see if the cancer was gone and if it always came back,” he said.
But then his doctors suggested CAR-T therapy.
“They collect your T-cells, take them to their lab, in this case, and reprogram them,” Jack said.
His doctors began discussing CAR-T therapy back in April. In August, for the first time in years, his outlook was clear.
Jack and Judi were shocked.
“It wiped everything out,” he said. “After working on it for so long and nothing else worked, this was amazing,” she added.
dr. van Besien hopes that with a faster turnaround time for manufacturing CAR-T cells, more patients will feel like Boyles.
“Production within 1 or 2 days is really going to help a significant portion of patients who otherwise can’t be helped,” he said.
The Boyles started making plans again. They are going on a cruise for the first time in years with their great-granddaughter.
“She’s been asking since she was about 4 years old when she can travel with you and daddy, ‘so we’re going to take her on a cruise to Alaska,'” Judi said.
The first clinical trial for faster turnaround for CAR-T therapy will begin in November. dr. van Besien believes that, if successful, it could change the future of immunotherapy.
The cells and research during the trial will be at the Seidman Cancer Center’s newly expanded Wesley Center for Immunotherapy.
It more than triples the existing on-site cellular therapy space and was made possible by a $10 million gift from Kimberly and the late Joseph Wesley.
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