Exploding cancer cells can cause serious side effects in CAR-T cell therapies

Friday, January 17, 2020 - 14:10 in Health & Medicine

Techniques to genetically modify patient immune cells have revolutionized the fight against hard-to-treat cancers. But they can come with dangerous side effects. Now, researchers have found one reason why. A particularly messy form of cell death sparks severe inflammation in patients receiving CAR-T cell immunotherapy for blood cancers, researchers report January 17 in Science Immunology. This treatment, approved for certain patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (SN: 12/13/17), unleashes immune cells in a patient’s bloodstream, tweaked to produce artificial proteins called chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR. The proteins prime T cells to recognize cancer cells so that the immune cells can hunt down and kill the rogue cells. Normally as cells die, they shrink and break apart — a highly controlled process whose debris is easily vacuumed up by the body’s natural defenses. During CAR-T cell treatment, however, targeted cancer cells can swell and rupture in a manner typically associated with infection, Bo Huang, an immunologist at the Chinese Academy of...

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