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About the Cellular Therapies Program

  • Cellular therapies are designed to improve the immune system's ability to fight cancer. Manufacturing them involves collecting a specific set of cells from the blood, modifying them to produce a more vigorous attack on a patient's cancer cells, and then reinjecting them into the patient.

    Cellular therapies differ from stem cell transplantation in that the cells collected are not blood-forming stem cells. Instead, they may be certain types of immune system cells, including a subgroup of T cells capable of killing tumor cells. They may also be tumor cells themselves that have been re-engineered to draw an attack by the immune system. And, unlike the cells used in a classical bone marrow transplant, the collected cells are altered before being infused back into the patient.

    The Cellular Therapies Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) builds on our expertise in stem cell transplantation. Cells are processed at an outside commercial facility or at the Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility, which has long been at the forefront of producing cell-based therapies for cancer and other diseases.

    Many types of cellular therapy for cancer are being explored, including CAR T cells, other genetically modified T cells, vaccines, and NK cells.

    NK cells are part of the immune system that rapidly detect and attack virus-infected cells and tumor cells. They were named “natural killer” cells because, unlike T cells, they detect and destroy infected and malignant cells directly, without having to be activated or “trained” to respond to them, although it is now understood that NK cells perform better when they are activated by exposure to immune system substances called cytokines. Our program offers clinical trials of NK-cell therapy for patients with advanced hematologic malignancies.

    CAR T-cells illustration

    At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, clinical trials of cellular therapies are now underway for the treatment of an expanding number of cancer types and non-cancerous diseases. We encourage you to check with your care team for more information about the availability of cellular therapy trials for your particular condition.

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  • Rizwan Romee, MD, discusses upcoming trials of NK cell therapy in advanced hematologic malignancies.