Adoptive Cell Therapy

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Adoptive cell therapy tries to boost the natural ability of your immune system’s killer cells, either T cells or natural killer cells, to recognize and kill cancer cells.

During adoptive cell therapy, scientists draw some blood from you and remove T cells from the blood. Doctors may modify your T cells so they can better recognize the cancer cells in your body. These altered T cells are then grown in large batches in the lab. Growing enough altered T cells for a treatment can take 2 weeks to several months.

In some cases, a person having adoptive cell therapy may have other treatments to reduce the number of immune cells in the body because these unaltered immune cells do not recognize the cancer cells. Then, the altered T cells are put back in the body to seek out and destroy the cancer cells.

There are several types of adoptive cell therapy, based on how the T cells are treated in the lab:

  • chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy genetically alters T cells to have chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, on their surfaces; CARs may allow the T cells to better recognize cancer cells
  • tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) T cell therapy removes TILs, a type of T cell found in cancer tumors, and treats them with interleukin (IL-2), a type of protein that can boost the ability of the T cells to recognize cancer cells; IL-2 is also a cytokine and a man-made version of it called Proleukin (chemical name: aldesleukin) has been approved by the FDA to treat metastatic kidney cancer and metastatic skin cancer

No adoptive cell therapies have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat breast or any other cancer yet. Adoptive cell therapy is only available in clinical trials.


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