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Scientists Survey CAR T-Cell Therapy Landscape

A historical review authored by members of KU Cancer Center chronicles decades of immune-based research leading to a new frontier in cancer treatment, CAR T-cell therapy.

March 05, 2020

A historical review authored by members of The University of Kansas Cancer Center chronicles decades of immune-based research leading to a new frontier in cancer treatment, CAR T-cell therapy. Written by Joseph McGuirk, DO, director of the cancer center’s Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics program, and Anurag Singh, MD, assistant professor, the article was published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet Oncology.

With CAR T-cell therapy, T cells – a type of white blood cell – are extracted from the patient, re-engineered in a lab with “chimeric antigen receptors,” and implanted back into the patient. The newly weaponized CAR T cells then proliferate and disperse throughout the body to seek and destroy tumor cells. The FDA has approved CAR T-cell therapy for adult patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and for children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who haven't responded to other forms of treatment.

Dr. McGuirk is a national leader in the field of CAR T-cell therapy and has spearheaded efforts to offer this therapy to cancer center patients. The cancer center is among the world’s 1st providers of FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy and offers several related clinical trials.

“While the clinical successes in CAR T and other immune-based therapies are fairly recent, we are standing on the shoulders of many scientists who pioneered our understanding of the immune system,” Dr. McGuirk said. “In this review, Dr. Singh and I sought to provide a scientific overview of the progress that has been made, as well as identify opportunities for further application.”

Dr. Singh reiterated that scientific progress is often incremental, and today’s success stories are built on years of small victories and frequent setbacks.  

“The importance of basic science research cannot be overemphasized, as this creates new knowledge which could be applied in unrelated fields,” Dr. Singh said. “For example, CRISPR technology, which will hopefully make CAR T-cell therapy even more effective and safe, was actually developed by unrelated studies of viral resistance in bacteria.” 


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