‘Living Drugs’ Show Promise in the Fight Against Cancer

Patients’ own cells are trained to attack cancer in an experimental treatment

The key element in a new, experimental cancer treatment comes from an unexpected place–patients’ own immune systems. The cells used in CAR-T therapy are called “living drugs” because they’re engineered from patients’ healthy T cells and genetically modified to attack cancer.

Aaron Reid, a 20-year-old from Mississippi battling leukemia, is undergoing infusion therapy using CAR-T cells at the National Cancer Institute. His newly trained cells will multiply when they’re infused back into his body to fight the cancer.

“What we’re doing is we are educating [the T cells] to say, ‘These things don’t belong,'” said Dr. Nirali Shah, the pediatric oncologist running the study that Reid is in. “It’s an army that multiplies when it has a bigger job to do.”

While the treatment is promising, it’s not perfect. It can cause life-threatening reactions in the immune system, and it’s expensive. Each infusion costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Despite the side effects and the cost, Reid is optimistic that the treatment will be more successful than the rounds of chemotherapy and radiation that failed to stop his cancer.

To learn more about CAR-T cell treatment, check out the original story from NPR.