The new treatment is known as Car- T, its name consists of CAR, short for Chimeric Antigen Receptors and T, short for T cells, immune system cells.
Chimera, originating in Greek mythology, is a monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a snake or a dragon. The Greeks did not want to invent a completely new monster, rather they combined known animal parts and created a newly fused one.
In the world of genetic engineering, proteins can be combined to form a new, chimeric protein. One type of protein, called a receptor, functions as a sensor by binding an additional protein to itself such as a hormone and then transmits relevant information. For example, an insulin receptor is a protein located outside of the cell. Once an insulin protein binds to its receptor, the receptor informs the cell and the cell releases sugar to the bloodstream.
An antigen receptor is a sensor that binds an antigen molecule to the antigen, and creates an immune response. For example, people who are allergic to dust are usually sensitive to secretions of dust mites. These are antigens to which antigen receptors bind. T cells can identify cells that have been invaded by viruses or mutated into cancer cells, and then cause their destruction.
In 1989, two researchers at the Weizmann Institute, Zelig Eshchar and Gideon Gross, thought to treat cancer using engineered T cells. They created T cells with receptors that better identified cancer cells. The treatment of cancer patient, required removing the patient’s T cells from the blood, engineering them outside the body (genetic engineering) so that the cells display the modified receptor (the Chimeric Antigen Receptor) and then returning these improved T cells to the patient’s body. These cells are better at identifying cancer cells and destroying them.
Initial results showed 83 percent success, but in 50 percent of the cases adverse side effects were observed, usually caused by cytokines released by the immune system. Cytokines are a type of chemical communicators between the immune cells that the CAR-T cells can drive to attack the immune system. Side effects such as fatigue, infections, fever, pain, and death are caused. Today, many researchers are working hard to understand the process of “cytokine storm” and prevent its consequences.
An Israeli company called AEBi, recently issued a statement that within a year it will start producing innovative treatments for all types of cancer, without any side effects. Their research began almost 30 years ago in the same experiment with Car-T cells at the Weizmann Institute, but to date it has not been completely approved by the FDA. No scientific research from AEBi has yet been published, and it has not shared clinical research. Despite this, there is room for cautious optimism. Perhaps a breakthrough has been made, and has been kept secret until the last minute.