Director's message: Springtime and hope are in bloom

Volume 7, Issue 1, 2018


New treatments like CAR T-cell therapy are revolutionizing options for patients with cancer.

Robert B. Diasio, M.D., director, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center

Robert B. Diasio, M.D.

One of the exciting things about my job is the opportunity to talk about new cancer therapies.

As I write this column, Mayo Clinic has just begun using CAR T-cell therapy to treat patients with large B-cell lymphoma whose cancer has progressed despite receiving at least two prior treatment regimens.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CAR T-cell therapy in October 2017, and it is among the first of what I believe will be many new treatments that could revolutionize the way we treat cancer and bring hope to patients who otherwise may have run out of options.

You may have heard about new cancer therapies called checkpoint inhibitors, which limit the ability of cancer cells to hide from the immune system, but CAR T-cell therapy is much different.

CAR T-cell therapy involves a single treatment in which physicians harvest a patient's white blood cells and genetically modify a subset of them. These modified cells are then infused back into the patient. Once back in the patient, the modified cells are better able to recognize and kill cancer cells.

Because of its complexity and the need to carefully monitor and manage potential side effects, CAR T-cell therapy is available only at select medical centers in the United States. I'm proud to say that Mayo Clinic is one of these centers — and was one of the centers that treated patients in the landmark clinical trial that led to FDA approval of CAR T-cell therapy.