Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common form of childhood cancer, and it usually appears in children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. However, it is possible for older children and teens to develop ALL. In fact, every year, roughly 400 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are diagnosed with ALL. Like other cancers, acute lymphoblastic leukemia can make patients very sick, and its progression, without treatment, is rapid. But for families in Ireland who have been affected by this terrible disease, there’s new hope. And it comes in the form of CAR-T therapy. The life-saving procedure is now available at Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin in Dublin.

What Is CAR-T Therapy?

During CAR-T cell therapy, doctors harvest healthy T-cells from the patient. T-cells are those white blood cells that are specially designed to fight off infection. Once collected, these cells are genetically modified and a chimeric antigen receptor is added. The modified cells are then re-introduced back into the patient, where they hunt down and kill cancerous cells by blasting them with lethal cytotoxins. The result is usually favorable for the patient who is battling this form of blood cancer.

While research is still taking place into cell therapy strategies, CAR-T for the treatment of blood cancers has proven very optimistic, especially for patients who haven’t responded well to other forms of treatment.

CAR-T Therapy in Ireland

While CAR-T cell therapy has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fight blood cancers since 2017, the treatment has only recently become available to families in Ireland. Before April of this year, these families had to travel to the UK or farther to access life-saving CAR-T cell therapy for their children.

Who Is a Good Candidate for CAR-T Therapy?

CAR-T therapy is currently reserved for patients with treatment-resistant cancers, who haven’t responded well to chemotherapy and/or medication. For many of these patients, modifying the existing white blood cells to fight the battle inside the body has shown positive results. And now children in Ireland have more opportunity than ever before to take advantage of this life-saving protocol without having to uproot and move to another country during one of the most traumatic times in their lives.

Cell Therapy and Its Relationship to Gene Editing

Cell therapy, at it’s core, involves modifying the body’s most basic elements. And along with gene editing, it holds great promise for individuals who are genetically predisposed to certain diseases, such as cancer, Tay-Sach’s Disease, or down syndrome. While cell therapy has been effective in improving the prognosis for patients with treatment-resistant cancers, gene editing will someday allow doctors to remove long segments of mutated DNA and replace them with healthy segments. The result could be eventual elimination of these disorders altogether.

You can read more about CAR-T cell therapy in the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Cancer Research UK. This includes who is eligible to receive CAR-T treatment in Ireland, where to go for treatment, and what to expect during the treatment period.