Cancer is a serious threat. It’s not a comic book villain that a super soldier can easily vanquish. But what if our bodies could be taught to develop super soldier cells capable of destroying cancer? This is what Dr. Michael Chu’s made-in-Alberta immunotherapy program aims to do.
What is immunotherapy?
Dr. Chu is a clinician scientist working at the Cross Cancer Institute, with many years of experience researching cancer treatments. His most recent research is focused on immunotherapy. Dr. Chu explains, “Immunotherapy is a new way of attacking cancer.” This method differs from the traditional treatment options that have been available for the last 50 years: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. “For cancer to develop, it would have to overwhelm the patient’s immune system to begin with,” continues Dr. Chu. Immunotherapy aims to reinvigorate the immune system into fighting cancer cells again. However, this idea has had its challenges. “Exciting the immune system means that the immune system has to be capable of recognizing cancer in the first place, which is why there are many variations of immunotherapy,” Dr. Chu explains.
What is Car T-cell Immunotherapy?
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy takes the patient’s T-cells and genetically manipulates them to add chimeric antigen receptors onto them. This acts as a new barcode reader, helping the T-cell recognize cancer and activating the T-cell. Once the immune system can identify cancer cells again, the host has a better chance of fighting the disease.
CAR T-cells recognizing these cancer cells have led to cures in multiply relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). By utilizing CAR T Cells, a group of patients who would typically be palliative will have a serious chance. “CAR T-cell therapy has been able to cure roughly half of the patients that we’ve been able to give it to, in patients that have no chemotherapy or other treatments available to them,” explains Dr. Chu.
How can you help?
The goal is to help fund rapid, high-quality, nimble, safe and cost-effective manufacturing of cell therapies right here in Edmonton.
With your support, funding will go toward:
- Developing a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) in-house lab for manufacturing CART-cell therapies. This will bring manufacturing closer to the Cross Cancer Institute patients and across Alberta.
- Developing a comprehensive research lab to support ongoing provincial innovation and cellular therapy clinical trials.
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