Chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells strike back

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Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) are engineered molecules designed to endow a polyclonal T-cell population with the ability to recognize tumor-associated surface antigens. In their simplest form, CARs comprise a targeting moiety in the form of a single-chain variable fragment from an antibody connected to various intracellular signaling domains allowing for T-cell activation. This powerful approach combines the specificity of an antibody with the cytotoxic ability of a T cell. There has been much excitement since early phase trials of CAR-T cells targeting CD19 expressed on B-cell malignancies demonstrated remarkable efficacy in inducing long-term, stable remissions in otherwise relapsed/refractory disease. Despite these successes, we have just begun to understand the intricacies of CAR biology with efforts underway to utilize this platform in the treatment of other, previously refractory malignancies. Challenges currently include identification of viable cancer targets, management strategies for potentially severe and irreversible toxicities and overcoming the immunosuppressive nature of the tumor microenvironment. This review will focus on basic CAR structure and function, previous success and new approaches aimed at the broader application of CAR-T-cell therapy.

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