CAR T-Cell Therapy Immunotherapy

Precision cancer therapies for aggressive diseases

Immunotherapy and cellular therapeutics represent the future of cancer care. These biological therapies involve manipulating the body’s cells to reactivate and strengthen their abilities to attack cancer cells. As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center – one of just 71 in the nation – we are among the leaders in advancing and delivering revolutionary precision cancer therapies.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is cancer treatment focused on harnessing the body’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. This targeted, precision cancer therapy can take several forms, including:

  • Stem cell transplant, in which the patient receives healthy donor cells to grow a new immune system
  • Medication infusion, in which injected antibodies manipulate the patient’s existing T cells to attack ancer cells
  • T-cell re-engineering, in which the patient’s own T cells are extracted from the body, genetically modified in a laboratory to fight cancer cells and returned by infusion to the patient’s body

Immunotherapy is one aspect of precision cancer therapies and is considered the future of the field by the National Cancer Institute. With this approach, treatment is targeted to the cellular level, with experts studying the individual’s cancer cells and then determining which type of therapy is most likely to destroy those cells. Other types of more traditional treatment include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

What is a T cell, and why is it so important?

T cells are a type of cell critical to the immune system’s ability to detect and attack cancer cells. When T cells are deficient in number, unable to function properly or fail to recognize cancer cells as foreign and dangerous to the body, the immune system cannot identify and destroy those cells. Immunotherapy offers the potential to build a new immune system or repair a damaged one to once again do its job and protect against cancer cells.

What is CAR T-cell therapy, and how is it different?

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy that involves reengineering a patient’s own T cells to fight cancer. In contrast to a donor stem cell transplant, in which a patient receives cells from someone else, or a medication infusion, in which a drug alters the behavior of the patient’s existing T cells, CAR T-cell therapy involves extracting the patient’s own T cells, altering them in a laboratory, and returning the improved cells to the patient’s body – reprogrammed to recognize and attack cancer cells.

One type of CAR T-cell therapy, Yescarta™, recently became one of the first FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy. The University of Kansas Cancer Center was selected among the world’s first sites to offer this treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We also offer KYMRIAH™, the first FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy for patients up to 25 years old who have relapsed or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia and for adults with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

What is the CAR T-cell therapy care process?

CAR T-cell therapy begins with the collection of the patient’s white blood cells. This process is called leukapheresis. Once collected, the T cells are isolated and activated. This step stimulates them to multiply and introduces the CAR into the patient’s T cells. The re-engineered cells are frozen and returned to the clinical center for transfusion back into the patient’s body.

Before receiving the altered T cells, the patient receives a short chemotherapy regimen to prepare for the T-cell transfusion.

Why is immunotherapy considered the future of cancer medicine?

Immunotherapy moves the field of cancer care an unprecedented step forward toward, precision cancer therapies. Unlike traditional radiation and chemotherapy – which represented a revolution of their own when introduced decades ago – immunotherapy is highly targeted. It precisely destroys cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Immunotherapy offers the potential to deliver more targeted treatment with fewer harsh side effects.

Are there risks?

As with any cancer treatment, there are risks associated with immunotherapy options that must be weighed in comparison with potential benefits – which could be lifesaving. Potential side effects of the newly FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapies now offered at The University of Kansas Cancer Center include low red or white blood cell count, low blood pressure, fever, rapid heart rate, confusion, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, nausea and diarrhea.

Your doctor will provide you with education and a comprehensive list of possible side effects should you receive immunotherapy.

Who is a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy or immunotherapy?

Patients battling cancerous and noncancerous blood disorders such as leukemia, and lymphoma may be candidates for stem cell transplant therapy. The commercially available CAR T-cell therapies we offer today are designed to treat patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma for whom at least two other kinds of treatment have failed and patients under the age of 25 who have relapsing or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To make an appointment for evaluation, call 913-588-9187 or 877-323-1227.

What kinds of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy can be used to treat more than two dozen cancer types, including blood, breast, lung, colon and pancreas.

Are there clinical trials for immunotherapy?

Yes. It is a field that holds tremendous promise for the future of cancer care. As an NCI-designated cancer center, we offer our patients access to clinical trials frequently unavailable elsewhere in the region.

Each trial has its own set of rules that determines who may take part. Physicians follow these guidelines when deciding who can enroll. Criteria may include your age, gender, type and stage of disease, prior treatment and other medical conditions. We are also limited on the number of participants for each trial.

Does my doctor need to refer me to a study?

No. You are welcome to contact us directly. If you are accepted into a trial, we will contact your primary care doctor or oncologist. To get started, you may complete and submit our immunotherapy trial form,or call us at 844-323-1227 or 913-588-1227 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time. International callers may dial 00-1-913-588-1227. We will contact you within 24 hours of receiving your message.

What should I expect when I hear from you?

To assess your eligibility for the trial, we will contact your doctor(s) and request your medical records, including any recent tests and lab results. To do this, we will ask you for:

  • Physician/healthcare provider names
  • Physician/healthcare provider locations
  • Insurance provider and group number
Will my insurance cover a trial?

Not all health insurance plans cover clinical trials. Our patient financial counselors will assess your insurance coverage prior to your initial visit.

What if I am not a local resident?

If you live outside the Kansas City area, we help you arrange travel and lodging and identify local amenities. You must remain in the Kansas City metro during your treatment.

Where can I find travel and lodging information?

Our concierge service is here to assist you with lodging, transportation and other amenities. Contact our dedicated travel consultant and concierge assistant at 844-323-1227, then press 4 to speak with a travel concierge. For international callers, dial 00-1-913-588-1227. Our travel concierge is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Central Standard Time.

You may also request a Patient Comfort & Travel Guide for information on area lodging, dining and other amenities.

Why should I choose The University of Kansas Cancer Center?

As home to the region’s largest and most experienced blood and marrow transplant (BMT) and cellular therapeutics program, having performed more than 3,400 transplants since our inception, The University of Kansas Cancer Center is uniquely qualified to provide immunotherapy. Our multidisciplinary care team is highly versed in the specific needs of patients with blood cancers and disorders. We offer the significant infrastructure required to deliver and manage this complex treatment.

Living Life to the Fullest

Heloise Gray

An immunotherapy trial gave Heloise Gray hope when she feared there was none. Now in remission, the active retiree is ready to leap back into life.