Rambam is the only hospital in Northern Israel authorized by Israel’s Ministry of Health to offer CAR T-Cell therapy (CAR-T). Hence, the hospital’s multidisciplinary team of the Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation Institute under the directorship of Professor Tsila Zuckerman, is providing patients with one of the most beneficial follicular lymphoma treatments available today.
T-cells are a type of immune cell that help fight infection, disease, and theoretically – cancer. However, cancer cells suppress T-cell activity to survive, enabling them to bypass the immune system. Hence, T-cells from patients must be reprogrammed to give them the ability to kill tumor cells. This is where CAR-T therapy enters the picture: it is used to program the patient’s white blood cells (T-cells) so they can attack and kill the cancer cells.
Dr. Ofrat Beyar-Katz, hematologist and director of the Cell Therapy Service at Rambam, explains, “In a relatively short, painless, and safe procedure, these cancerous T-cells are taken from the patient’s blood, multiplied, and re-programed in the laboratory to recognize and attack the cancerous cells. They are then returned to the patient’s body.”
One form of cancer that can be treated with CAR-T therapy is follicular lymphoma, which is most often treated as a chronic cancer that only requires monitoring. However, treatment is needed if the patient’s longevity or quality of life are negatively impacted by symptoms such as weight loss, night sweats, an enlarged lymph gland or spleen, pain, and discomfort.
Follicular lymphoma usually appears in adults over 60, but cases in younger patients are also seen. A patient may feel a lump in a lymph node under the neck, armpit, or groin. The lump is usually painless but concern may lead to a medical examination. The disease may also be a coincidental finding when the patient is undergoing tests for other reasons, for example, during an emergency room examination after an accident, or following a CT scan. Diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy.
At the recent 64th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition, very good results were presented from a follow-up study that examined CAR-T treatment. Beyar-Katz reports, “Findings show that the response to CAR-T treatment is long-lasting, and a patient could remain disease-free even two years later. It is good news; the treatment achieves good initial and long-lasting results.”
According to the latest guidelines, CART-T can only be offered once specific chemotherapy or immunotherapy has been administered and failed. According to Beyar-Katz, “CAR-T is given in some types of lymphoma, multiple myeloma (a bone marrow cancer), and certain types of leukemia. So far, successful and effective forms of CAR-T treatment for other types of cancer have yet to be found.”
Since CAR-T is not available in all Israeli hospitals, Beyar-Katz recommends that patients ask about it. She concludes, “Many studies are underway examining alternative immunotherapy treatments, and good results are hoped for. We are glad to have a variety of treatments to offer our patients.”
This article is based on an English translation of the original Hebrew article published on the Mako news website.