Skip Navigation

How CAR T-Cell Therapy Works

  • How CAR T-Cell Therapy Works illustration - no heading
  • CAR T-cell therapy is a complex, multi-step process for patients:

    1. Evaluation: Patients undergo a series of tests and screenings to determine if CAR T-cell therapy is an appropriate treatment option.
    2. Collection: T cells are collected from patients via apheresis, a process that withdraws blood from the body and removes one or more blood components, in this case T cells. The remaining blood components are then returned into the body. The procedure is done in one day in a clinic at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
    3. Engineering: The T cells are sent to a laboratory where they are genetically engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface. CARs are proteins that allow the T cells to recognize an antigen on targeted tumor cells.
    4. Multiplication: The genetically modified T cells are "expanded" by growing cells in the laboratory until there are millions of them. The process of engineering and growing sufficient quantities of CAR T cells can take a few weeks. When there are enough of them, the CAR T cells are frozen and sent to the hospital or center where the patient is being treated. At our center, these cells are returned and processed at Dana-Farber's Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility.
    5. Conditioning Therapy: Prior to infusion of the CAR T cells, patients may receive chemotherapy for their cancer. This helps to create space in your immune system for the infused CAR T cells to expand and proliferate.
    6. Infusion: When the CAR T cells are ready, patients are admitted either to Dana-Farber's Inpatient Hospital located within Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) or to BWH, where the cells are infused in a process similar to a blood transfusion. Patients may receive medications to prevent and control possible side effects of the newly-engineered cells. Currently, patients need to stay in the hospital for a few days or even several weeks, depending on their condition and the risk of side effects.
    7. Recovery: Patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy have a risk/recovery period of approximately 2 to 3 months. During this period, patients will be evaluated for side effects and treatment response. It is not uncommon for patients to be re-admitted to the hospital during this period to manage complications from treatment. During the first 30 days after discharge, patients need to remain close to our center for regular follow-up care. A resource specialist can assist in arranging for a place to stay during this time, if needed.

    Throughout the entire process, careful measures are in place to ensure patients' safety.

  • Dana-Farber/ Brigham and Women's Cancer Center
  • Contact Information for CAR T-Cell Therapy

    For more information about CAR T-cell therapy, please call 877-801-CART (2278) or email cartinquiries@dfci.harvard.edu.

  • Pediatric CAR T-Cell Therapy

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children's is a certified treatment center for providing the recently FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy called KYMRIAH to patients who are up to 25 years old with second or later relapsed or refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).