The immune system plays the central role in protecting against and fighting infections in the human body. In recent years, cancer doctors and researchers have been able to harness the immune system to fight cancer. With cell therapy, they are able to generate cancer-fighting immune cells in the laboratory and to use them to completely eradicate tumors in patients.
Columbia Cellular Immunotherapy Laboratory
In 2017, Columbia University established a Cellular Immunotherapy Laboratory capable of producing immune cells under current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) guidelines and meeting the FDA safety and quality regulations, making it one of the few institutions to have the ability to grow and manipulate T-cells for therapy of patients with cancer or severe infections.
Columbia researchers manufacture clinical grade immune cells based on the research taking place at Columbia, as well as in the labs of collaborating institutions. In addition, the scientists are using innovative methodologies, including gene engineering and other sophisticated manipulations, to generate novel potent immune cells called T helper cells targeting common cancers with the ultimate goal of evaluating their activity in clinical trials involving patients with advanced malignant diseases.
The Cellular Immunotherapy Laboratory is also developing T-cells for use as immune therapy and prevention of severe viral infections that frequently affect vulnerable patients with cancer and other diseases. Researchers obtain normal T-cells from healthy donors and educate them to recognize common viruses.
In the case of bone marrow transplant recipients, the protocol involves rebuilding the patient’s immune system immediately after the bone marrow transplant – the time of most vulnerability for the type of cells that will prevent the occurrence of infection.
The researchers will also use a similar strategy as rescue treatment for many critically ill immuno- compromised patients regardless of the underlying cause of infection, such as patients who received chemotherapy for cancer or immune suppressive drugs for autoimmune diseases or following solid organ transplantation.
In the near future, the researchers are planning to implement the point-of-care in-house manufacture of CAR T-cells for treatment of lymphomas and leukemias in the lab on campus. The researchers expect that this approach will make the lifesaving CAR T therapy significantly less costly and rapidly available to anyone in need.