New treatment holds promise for lymphoma and leukemia patients
CAR T-cell treatment harnesses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Now: Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) is the first to offer this treatment outside the US
The CAR T-cell treatment applies the most advanced technology available to medicine – using the patient’s immune system to tackle cancer.
Supercharging the patient’s immune system
In the procedure, a small number of immune system cells are extracted from the patient's blood, genetically engineered in a private company’s specialty lab approved by the European, American and Israeli health authorities. Once processed, the cells are returned to the patient in a one-time treatment designed to destroy the cancer cells.
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which began this program with select patients in February 2016, is the first center outside of the United States to offer this lifesaving treatment.
What is CAR T-cell therapy and how does it work?
T cells are a key part of the human immune system. Their job is to eliminate infections and diseases.
Theoretically T cells can also fight cancer cells, but malignant cells succeed in suppressing T-cell defenses and bypassing the immune system. Therefore, these cells need to undergo a process of "re-education," in which the T cells acquire the specific ability to kill the tumor cells.
Science developed by the Medical Center’s own
The treatment is based on innovative technology invented by Prof. Zelig Eshhar, Director of the Medical Center’s Immunotherapy Laboratory. A change in the genetic code of the patient's T cells causes them "learn" to specifically attack the tumor cells.
What types of cancer can T-cell therapy treat?
After years of clinical trials, US, European, UK, and Israeli health ministries have approved the use of CAR T-cell therapy for the following populations:
- Elderly patients diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma that has recurred or did not respond adequately to two previous treatment protocols
- Young acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients (up to age 25) diagnosed with recurrent B-cell alterations.
The course of treatment
- The patient undergoes apheresis, a procedure in which lymphocytes (types of white blood cells) are extracted from the blood
- The collected cells are sent to the designated commercial lab approved by the European and American authorities for preparing this treatment regimen.
- The cells undergo controlled changes by which the gene for a special receptor (chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR) is inserted into the T cells. The procedure usually takes several weeks. In this process, these cells “learn” to attack the cancer cells.
- When T-cells are ready for use, they are sent back to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
- The patient receives a short chemotherapy treatment in order to weaken the immune system and promote the successful absorption of the CAR T-cells in the body.
- The T cells are then infused back into the patient in a quick process that usually takes less than an hour. After the infusion, the patient remains in the hospital for about 10-15 days for monitoring and follow-up.
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center:
the center of excellence for CAR T treatment
- The Hematology Institute has extensive experience in the most progressive treatments for leukemia and lymphoma, and for bone marrow transplantation.
- The Hematology Institute’s senior team specializes in CAR T-cell treatment, with experience in the treatment process and managing the side effects that can accompany the treatment.
- The institute is the most experienced in Israel in CAR T-cell therapy.
- The Hematology Institute was the first center outside the United States to participate in CAR T clinical trials, and the first to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Health to provide T-cell therapy to the community at large.