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CAR T Immunotherapy

Engineering the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Co Authors:

Joseph DeMasi
School of Arts and Sciences
MCPHS University

Janet A. De Souza-Hart
School of Arts & Sciences
MCPHS University


This directed case study was written to help students learn about an innovative cancer therapy that harnesses a patient's immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The critical insight underlying this therapy is to use a cancer patient's own immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells. The process involves the removal of T lymphocytes from a cancer patient's blood stream, which are then genetically engineered to express a novel cell surface protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The approach is known as "CAR T cell therapy." Written as a conversation between a cancer patient and an oncologist, the case details the immunological protein components used to construct the CAR that permit the targeting of cancer cells and the activation of T cells. The case covers the cell biology, biochemistry, and immunology underlying CAR T cell therapies, and is appropriate for an upper-level undergraduate immunology course or a clinical course covering oncology, immunology, or therapeutics.

  • Describe the typical interaction between T cells and antigen-presenting cells.
  • Explain the domains of chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and their respective functions.
  • Explain how CARs allow T cells to interact with and attack both cancer cells and normal cells.
  • Apply knowledge of the immune system to current applications of cancer immunotherapies.
  • Understand side effects of immunotherapy treatment and compare this treatment with typical chemotherapy.
Keywords: Immunology; cancer; T cells, immunotherapy; antigen; lymphocytes; CAR; chimeric antigen receptor;
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), Clinical education
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Biomedical Engineering   Biotechnology   Cell Biology   Medicine (General)   Molecular Biology  
Date Posted: 2/4/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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