Shelly Fan in Singularity Hub:
Ask a cancer researcher what the breakthrough treatment of the decade is, and they’ll tell you CAR T takes the crown. The therapy genetically engineers a person’s own immune cells, turning them into super soldiers that hunt down cancerous blood cells. With astonishing speed, multiple CAR T therapies have been approved by the FDA for previously untreatable blood cancers. So far, over 15,000 patients have been treated with the therapy. To Dr. Carl June, a pioneer of the technology at the University of Pennsylvania, we’re only scratching the surface of CAR T’s potential.
In a perspective article published in Nature this week, June and colleagues laid out a path forward. At its root, CAR T therapy taps into the natural “killer instinct” of a type of immune cell, called a T cell, and directs it to a particular target—for example, blood cancer cells. But with careful redesign, CAR T therapy can be genetically engineered to tackle a wide range of humanity’s most prominent medical enemies: autoimmune diseases, asthma, and heart, liver, and kidney diseases caused by increasingly stiffening muscles.
Even more intriguing, CAR T may help clean out senescent “zombie” cells, which are linked to age-related diseases, or combat HIV and other viral infectious diseases. “We are only beginning to realize the full potential of this living drug,” said the authors.