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Our bodies are designed with a natural defense – our immune system. This part of the body fights back when you have an infection.

Researchers have harnessed the power of the immune system to fight back against cancer. This approach is called immunotherapy. As one of the first centers to use immunotherapies as a cancer treatment, we have a unique depth of expertise in this promising area.

Immunotherapy: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram

We go beyond delivering treatment – we are pioneers in developing immunotherapy:

  • Forefront of immunotherapy research: You won’t find leading-edge immunotherapy research at every cancer center. Only research and teaching centers that have the latest treatment technology and experienced teams are equipped to offer this innovative treatment option.
  • Leaders in clinical trials: We were the first cancer center in Tennessee to successfully treat a patient with non-Hodgkin lymphoma using his own re-engineered immune cells.
  • Advanced therapies: We have treated hundreds of patients using a promising new immune therapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors. In addition, we are also involved in research to discover why some patients respond and some patients experience side effects.
  • Collaboration: Advances in medicine happen when specialists work together and share their expertise. At Vanderbilt-Ingram, our collaborative environment includes experts in all fields of cancer care.

Immunotherapy: How It Works

Cancer cells are smart – they want to grow and multiply, so they “turn off” the immune system. The immune system does not recognize the cancer as an invader and allows the cancer cells to grow and spread, unchecked.

The job of immunotherapy is to re-engineer the immune system so it can effectively fight the cancer cells. The power is in the immune system already – immunotherapy removes the brakes that the cancer puts on the system and unleashes the cancer-fighting power.

CAR T Therapy

In late 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two new treatments known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T) therapy. One therapy was approved to treat certain patients under age 25 with acute lymphocytic leukemia. The other was approved to treat patients with a type of lymphoma.

Vanderbilt participated in the clinical trials of these therapies. Because of its experience and expertise in managing patients undergoing this exciting but complex treatment, Vanderbilt was selected among the first centers to offer the approach. 

CAR-T works by collecting a patient’s T-cells and sending them to a specialized lab. Scientists re-engineer them so they produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which help the T-cells recognize a certain protein on the tumor. Once the T-cells recognize the tumor as foreign, they will begin to attack and destroy the cancer cells.

We have a dedicated phone line for inquiries about our CAR T therapy program: (615) 936-2702.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Clinical Trials

Vanderbilt-Ingram uses these novel treatments as standard therapies for many cancers. We are also investigating them further through many open clinical trials.

Our immune system needs to tell the difference between healthy cells and foreign cells, so it can attack the invaders and leave the healthy cells alone. “Checkpoints” are molecules on certain immune cells. These checkpoints are activated when the body detects an invading cell. However, cancer cells turn off these checkpoints and are able to “hide” from the immune system.

PD-1 is a specific checkpoint on the T-cells of the immune system. PD-1 keeps the cells from attacking. The job of checkpoint inhibitor drugs is to block PD-1, allowing the T-cells to recognize and attack cancer cells.

We offer clinical trials that combine immune checkpoint inhibitors with other new immune therapy drugs and other treatments, to give you the most effective treatment.

Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support

Cancer affects all aspects of your life, and it affects you even after treatments are completed. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment.