What is cell-based immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy broadly refers to a variety of techniques used to spur the human immune system to fight disease. The Brown Center for Immunotherapy is particularly interested in the emerging field of cell-based immunotherapies.
How Immunotherapy Works
Why Immunotherapy Matters
Frequently Asked Questions
Immunotherapy is a relatively new approach to fighting illness in which a patient’s immune system is energized to more effectively target a disease.
The primary target in immunotherapy treatments so far has been cancer. However, there is hope that the developing techniques may be applied to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other diseases.
Several methods of immunotherapy are being tested. At least initially, researchers associated with the Don Brown Center for Immunotherapy will focus on a technology known as chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells, or CAR T cells. T cells are important cells in the body’s immune system, but often cannot detect cancer cells due to the defenses put up by the malignant tumor cells. In this form of immunotherapy, a patient’s T cells are collected, programmed to identify and attack cancer cells, then re-inserted into the patient.
Two forms of cancer that have proven extremely difficult to treat effectively – multiple myeloma and triple-negative breast cancer – have been selected as initial targets for center researchers.
In some cases, immunotherapy has resulted in dramatic, long-lasting improvements in patients for whom all standard treatments had failed – to the point that they were declared cancer-free. In other cases patients improved significantly, but then relapsed. And in some patients, immunotherapy has not shown significant benefit.
All new therapies carry risks. With immunotherapy researchers and clinicians are learning that they must monitor patients closely in case their immune systems, having been energized to fight cancer, then begin to mount attacks against the patient’s organs. In some cases, such immune system attacks have been fatal, or have resulted in chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Some new immunotherapy drugs have proven to be extremely expensive. Because the CAR T approach is an early, experimental therapy, the costs are difficult to estimate. Initially, in more widespread use, CAR T therapy will not be inexpensive, though hopefully the costs will drop over time.