CAR T cells have become very popular lately. Results from various trials have concluded that indeed this technology can treat cancer effectively.
CAR T cells, are normal immune cells everyone has already, but modified. The T lymphocytes of a patient are extracted from a blood sample and then modified with a special set of genes. Those genes produce proteins that stick to the surface of the T lymphocytes and allow them to find, and stick to tumours much more effectively.
This technique was recently enhanced and produced great results. Specifically with blood cancers, CAR T cells performed very well. Even with some solid tumours CAR T experiments showed that the cells manage to bind to cancer cells and that they perform well enough.
Scientists have attempted to enhance the specificity of the CAR T cells by adding more recognition antigens. With BCMA, CD20, CD19 and CD22, the specificity can be increased. Thus it is possible to get lower toxicity in other tissues. But this still happens and is an issue with this technology. While it does really work, it is not magic and it still causes issues in the patient’s body. Ideally the specificity would be so high that this wouldn’t happen to a significant degree. But cancer cells do not have many unique surface antigens, and therefore are hard to target without targeting other innocent cells simultaneously.
As a technology CAR T cells are promising, and they could be used in many ways. With so much attention on them it is a matter of time until someone finds a way to engineer them in a way that eliminates most, if not all issues. It is also very possible that genetic engineering may play a role in this. A lot of investment is going towards genetic engineering and a combination of those two technologies may create something great. While CAR T cells are genetically engineered, there are ways to affect the MHC of the T lymphocytes and force them to target cancer cells.