CAR-T therapy for leukemia: progress and challenges

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Despite the rapid development of therapeutic strategies, leukemia remains a type of difficult-to-treat hematopoietic malignancy that necessitates introduction of more effective treatment options to improve life expectancy and quality of patients. Genetic engineering in adoptively transferred T cells to express antigen-specific chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) has proved highly powerful and efficacious in inducing sustained responses in patients with refractory malignancies, as exemplified by the success of CD19-targeting CAR-T treatment in patients with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Recent strategies, including manipulating intracellular activating domains and transducing viral vectors, have resulted in better designed and optimized CAR-T cells. This is further facilitated by the rapid identification of an accumulating number of potential leukemic antigens that may serve as therapeutic targets for CAR-T cells. This review will provide a comprehensive background and scrutinize recent important breakthrough studies on anti-leukemia CAR-T cells, with focus on recently identified antigens for CAR-T therapy design and approaches to overcome critical challenges.

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