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07-02-2018

High hopes for a new treatment of certain types of cancer with CAR T-cells

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3D render of immune system T-cells attacking a cancer cell © HES-SO Valais-Wallis
3D render of immune system T-cells attacking a cancer cell

This year’s World Cancer Day on 4 February was the occasion to review the new techniques available to cure certain types of cancer.

In the last couple of months, the use of CAR T-cells (chimeric antigen receptor t-cells) to treat cancer marked the beginning of a new era in cancer research. For this new immunotherapy, the patient’s T lymphocytes are isolated and genetically modified to specifically recognise the tumour. These cells are then reinjected into the patient’s body where they target and attack the tumour.

A few months ago, the first therapies of this kind were approved by US authorities and several successful therapies with T-cells have been reported since. These therapies are mainly used to cure leukaemia, in particular acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Gerrit Hagens, professor and specialist for cell culture and immunotherapy at the Institute of Life Technologies of the School of Engineering Valais, has been working with his team to use this therapy to treat chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) in Valais and, in the long term, to develop new types of CAR T-cells to cure other types of cancer.