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Emily Whitehead’s immune cells got sent to boot camp. Then they helped save her life.

Emily’s immune cells got “sent to boot camp.” Then they helped save her life.

After being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, Emily Whitehead tried several rounds of chemotherapy, but none of them worked. Then, in 2012, she enrolled in a clinical trial in which Carl H. June, M.D., and his team treated her with a novel immunotherapy strategy that employed CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cells.

This CAR T cell immunotherapy involved taking Emily’s own immune cells and equipping them with specialized new receptors (the CARs) specifically designed to target her cancer cells. Then, these powerful new CAR T cells were re-infused back into Emily, and then went to work and eliminated her leukemia. She’s remained cancer-free ever since. (You can read more about Emily’s remarkable story here.)

CAR T cell immunotherapies have been extremely successful against blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, leading to responses in more than half of the patients who have received them. More recently, CAR T cells have been developed that have shown promise in patients with a wider variety of cancers.

The following CRI-funded scientists are figuring out how we might enhance CAR T cell strategies and other T cell-based immunotherapy approaches:

Image provided courtesy of the Whitehead family.

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.