For Patients

CAR T-cell therapy

Normally, the immune system can determine healthy cells from sick cells. But when cancer cells multiply, the immune system can’t always keep up. The immune cells become exhausted and can no longer kill mutated cells.

Immunotherapy is a treatment strategy that reprograms the immune system to fight back. T-cells—a type of immune cell—are extracted from the patient and modified in the laboratory to recognize specific markers on cancerous cells. The key ingredient is called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), which creates new cancer-seeking CAR T-cells. 

During treatment, thousands of these supercharged CAR T-cells are infused back into the patient’s bloodstream, acting as a living drug that hunts down and kills cancer cells.

Immunotherapy can even be effective in patients who have already undergone extensive treatments for stubborn and recurring cancers. Unlike other therapies, CAR T-cells can survive in the body for years, constantly patrolling for new cancer cells and wiping them out as they appear.

A few years ago, I did not think this was possible. Now, with the promise of immunotherapy, I know we are on the right path.

Huda Salman, MD, PhD – Executive Director, Brown Center for Immunology

Immune checkpoint inhibitors

The immune system uses proteins inside T-cells as a built-in mechanism to trigger appropriate responses, known as checkpoints. During an infection, T-cells fight off the infection and then turn off the response through these checkpoints. When a normal T-cell encounters a cancer cell, the combination of proteins signals the immune system to slow down or even stop the fight against the cancerous cells.

Inhibiting these checkpoint signals can release the brakes that the cancer has imposed on the immune system – and unleash powerful responses toward tumor cells to stop their progression.

A closer look: Empowering the immune system to besiege cancers

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