Allegheny Health Network (AHN) provides breakthrough blood cancer solution
Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute is one of only a few oncology facilities in the country offering a groundbreaking treatment that uses a patient’s own immune system to kill certain blood cancer cells.
Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapy, otherwise known as CAR T-cell therapy, genetically modifies the blood to treat certain types of aggressive blood cancers: B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in patients 25 years of age or younger and for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In a process called apheresis, a patient’s white blood cells are collected and sent to a laboratory for where they’re reengineered to include artificial receptors called CARs, which turn them into “fighter” cells that recognize and kill cancer cells.
“We receive these modified T cells back in about two weeks in a frozen state. We will thaw them out and infuse them much the same way you would a blood transfusion, and they will remain in the body to guard against any recurrence,” said John Lister, MD, Chief, Division of Hematology and Cellular Therapy, AHN Cancer Institute. “The patient who becomes eligible for this therapy will unfortunately have experienced a relapse in their disease. CAR T-cell introduces the possibility that the patient can still be cured,” he said.
The immune system allows the body to recognize which cells are its own and which ones are not, killing off any foreign cells that may be lurking in the body. But when someone develops cancer, especially blood cancer, the immune system isn’t equipped to detect those types of foreign cells. And the more the cancer establishes itself, the more the disease develops ways of evading the immune system and obstructing its T-cells.
“This is truly a new dawn for cancer therapy, an entirely different approach to cancer than we’ve ever had in the past,” says Michael Passineau, PhD, Gene Therapy Program Director of Allegheny Health Network.
While AHN Cancer Institute has introduced a number of novel therapies for patients with blood cancer, CAR T-cell therapy is unique in that it alters a person’s cells so they recognize and attack the cancer, playing a vital function in the body’s ability to fight the disease on its own.
“This is why people like me do what we do. Get a crack in the dam, and something miraculous like this happens, and you can be part of actually bringing it to patients,” says Dr. Passineau.
AHN Cancer Institute has more than 20 locations, each providing expedited, personalized care for every patient, moving from diagnosis to meeting with their oncology team to discuss treatment options in as little as three days in most cases. No matter which AHN Cancer Institute location a patient visits, he or she will have access to some of the most innovative treatments and technologies available today in the fight against cancer, including advanced capabilities in surgery, radiation oncology and medical oncology and infusion therapies like CAR T-cell therapy.
“Patients become part of our families,” says Cyrus Khan, MD, Division of Hematology and Cellular Therapy at AHN, “so we take this journey together, and naturally, their good outcomes are our good outcomes. That’s really our goal at the end of the day.”
One may visit any of Allegheny Health Network’s hundreds of care centers and eight hospitals, including their 20 cancer institutes, across the region and see for themselves. AHN Cancer Institute delivers CAR T-cell therapy at AHN West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.