CAR T-cell therapy (also called CAR-T therapy and CART therapy) is a type of cancer treatment that uses the cells of your own immune system to destroy specific cancer cells in your body.
Currently, CAR T-cell therapy is FDA-approved to treat:
- Aggressive B-cell lymphomas (adults only)
- B-cell leukemia (children and young adults only)
At UVA, we're actively running clinical trials researching other potential conditions that could be treated with CAR T-cell therapy.
In order to be eligible for CAR T-Cell therapy, you must:
- Have leukemia or aggressive lymphoma that hasn’t responded to two standard prior chemotherapy treatments or to any treatment, or lymphoma that has returned
- Be healthy enough to undergo the possible side effects of CAR T therapy
- Be well enough to wait for the CAR T processing to be complete
How Does CAR T-Cell Therapy Work?
There are two steps to receiving CAR T-cell therapy:
- T Cell Modification
- T cells, which are part of the immune system, are collected from your blood.
- Your T cells are modified to include a gene with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The CAR reprograms your T cells to seek out a particular type of cancer cell and destroy it.
- When the CAR T cells are ready (which takes three to six weeks), they are infused into your blood.
- CAR T-Cell Infusion
- You will typically have a round of chemotherapy before receiving the CAR T cells, which helps them work better.
- Within the first week after receiving your CAR T cells, they multiply so that up to 70 to 90 percent of the T cells in the body are the new CAR T cells. The new T cells seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Side Effects of CAR T-Cell Therapy
Having such a high number of extremely active T cells in your body is risky. You may have side effects.
Side effects you may experience include:
- Fever, body aches and fatigue; this is called cytokine release syndrome (CRS)
- Severe CRS causing serious, even possibly life-threatening symptoms, such as low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and trouble breathing
- Nervous system issues, such as temporary tremor, difficulty talking, confusion, disorientation or seizure
You may stay at the hospital for one to two weeks after receiving your CAR T cells so we can treat any side effects. In addition to your stay at the hospital for monitoring, we also ask that you stay near UVA for at least one month after treatment for follow-up care.
Almost all patients can return to normal daily activities within a few weeks after receiving CART therapy. However, you shouldn't drive for at least eight weeks following treatment.