Cellular therapy is changing the future of cancer treatment, and for some, that future is here.

In cellular therapy treatments (such as tumor-infiltrating lymphyocytes - TILs - and chimeric antigen receptor - CAR T-cell therapy), immune cells are increased and made more effective to activate the immune system's response into high gear to fight cancer.

This is done by:

  • Taking the patient's own immune cells from the blood or a tumor
  • The cells are expanded and/or modified outside of the body
  • The cells are then infused back into the patient, re-training the immune system to recognize and kill the patient's cancer cells

Clinical trials are bringing these treatments from the lab to the bedside, offering patients a new chance at life. UofL Health's Center for Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy will develop and improve strategies that use the immune system to fight cancer.

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs)

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that has left the bloodstream and entered a tumor. A tumor is removed from the patient, and the white blood cells are harvested and isolated. The white blood cells harvested are T-cells. They normally control cancer in the body, but the tumor causes them to stop working. T-cells will take care of the tumor cells once activated and expanded with a growth factor. The TILs procedure activates and expands the white blood cells outside of the body to get ready for infusion back into the patient.

For the infusion, which is similar to a bone marrow transplant, the patient will be in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at UofL Hospital. The patient is then infused with their own T-cells that came from their own tumor, and it activates the immune system to kill the tumor.

TILs trials are currently underway at Brown Cancer Center for melanoma, lung cancer, cervical cancer and head and neck cancer.

Stage IV cancer patients, those who previously may have been told they had no other options, are now taking advantage of TILs and living relatively normal lives. They have been given back more of their time to spend with their loved ones, to see their children graduate or get married and to play with their grandchildren.

CAR T-cell therapy

CAR T-cell therapy is currently used for blood cancers (such as leukemias and lymphomas) and is being tested for solid tumors and other non-cancer diseases such as HIV and rheumatoid issues.

In CAR T-cell therapies, immune cells are extracted from the patient's own blood and are then genetically modified through the Evan Dunbar lab, part of UofL's Dunbar CAR T-cell Program, a good manufacturing practices facility.

The patient is admitted to the Bone Marrow Marrow Transplant Unit at UofL Hospital for a "mini bone marrow transplant," where the patient's immune system is wiped clean via chemotherapy. The modified cells are then infused back into the patient where the cells power the immune system to fight cancer and create long-term immunity to the cancer's recurrence.

In addition to dramatic treatment results, CAR T-cell therapy leads to fewer toxic side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

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