In this approach, the T cell of the patient is harvested so that its DNA can be modified in a way that it will be able to identify the patient’s specific tumor cells. This is done by making a receptor on the T cell that specifically recognizes a protein marker, or antigen, on the surface of a tumor cell.
Tumor cells, like normal cells, have many different spikes on its outer surface as we’ve seen in previous posts on Checkpoint blockade. But the fact that we always depict them in isolation (or a few at a time at best) doesn’t paint the whole picture of just how crowded the surface of cells really are.
Tumor cells and T cells are taken from the patient (1). A gene is made against an antigen found on the surface of the tumor (2). This gene is then inserted into the DNA of the T cell (3), and is tested for expression of that antigen receptor (4). The modified T cells are grown up in the billions (5) before being transferred back into the patient (6).
Next post, we’ll get to what happens when a T cell encounters a tumor cell within the body. Can anyone guess? I bet you know the answer!