The idea of mobilizing the immune system to kill cancer and other illnesses has been pursued for more than a century. But today, thanks to unprecedented advancements in this area, we stand on the brink of a new era in disease detection and treatment. Read on to see how the rising ImmunoRevolution at Penn Medicine is transforming health care and giving hope to patients all over the world.
SPARKING THE REVOLUTION
Penn Medicine has played a key role in innovations ranging from the first general vaccine against pneumonia to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). But the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 opened the door to a new work of discovery. Scientists could now see exactly which genes affected which traits in the body –insights that Penn Medicine researchers, led by Dr. Carl June, built into a groundbreaking technique called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T.
A LIVING PRESCRIPTION
Cancer spreads for a simple reason: The body can’t see it. Cancer cells start out as healthy cells, so when they mutate, immune cells don’t recognize them as a threat. But with CAR-T therapy, patients’ own immune cells are genetically reprogrammed to seek out and attack cancer. The modified cells live on in the body long after the cancer is gone, providing a lasting defense. This type of living medicine, made of patients’ own immune cells, has the potential to seek and attack cancer, shake off Parkinson’s and make Alzheimer’s a memory.
MAPPING IMMUNE CELLS
Human immune cells come in millions of varieties and fight off diseases in all kinds of different ways. To understand how they work together, Penn Medicine researchers mapped out almost a million different families of immune cells. They did this by counting them, one by one, which took three years to complete. the resulting B-cell atlas represents a quantum leap in our ability to identify and treat infectious disease.
THE END OF MS?
Not quite, but Penn Medicine is getting closer. Unlike cancer, wherein the body ignores the disease, multiple sclerosis is caused by overactive immune cells that attack healthy nerves. But CAR-T therapy is showing potential in slowing and even halting the progress of MS in some patients. One day soon, it may be possible to reverse nerve damage from MS and make the cure a permanent part of the body.
A TURNING POINT IN CARE
At Penn Medicine, clinical trials incorporating CAR-T cell therapy have led to groundbreaking, FDA-approved therapies for lymphoma and leukemia. Great strikes are being made toward a treatment for glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Other ongoing trials include: melanoma, multiple myeloma, prostate, sarcoma and triple negative breast cancer. Discover more at ImmunoRevolution.org.