'Serial killer' CAR T cells target and destroy tumor cells in Bristol Myers Squibb lab

See CAR T cell therapy in action as it surrounds and kills a tumor cell

December 06, 2021     

Every day, Bristol Myers Squibb scientists encounter images that show the wonder of science and the cutting-edge work of company research teams. This short video clip shows a tumor cell, which has been genetically altered to express a red fluorescent color for tracking purposes, as it's targeted and destroyed by chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Bristol Myers Squibb is a leader in autologous CAR T cell therapy, a type of cancer immunotherapy where a patient’s own T cells are genetically engineered to recognize and bind to proteins found on the surface of certain cancer cells. 

This video was shared by the Discovery Research team in the Immuno-Oncology and Cell Therapy (IO-CT) thematic research center (TRC) in Seattle, Washington. The team, led by Scientific Director David Kugler, is responsible for taking novel ideas and testing them across the company’s cellular therapy platforms to help design the next generation of cellular therapies. 

The death of this tumor spheroid takes place over an eight-day period. About halfway through the clip, you can see the CAR T cells (small black dots) form a sort of halo around the tumor cell and, as the CAR T cells multiply, the tumor cell doesn’t stand a chance. 

The CAR T cells may be small, but they can be mighty. “For this experiment, we put in about 500 CAR T cells to kill off 5,000 tumor cells” Kugler said. “The CAR T cells are serial killers — each individual CAR T cells can kill multiple tumor cells, and they have the ability to greatly expand.”

Kugler’s team is also studying why some patients do not develop durable responses with CAR T therapy and are working on solutions.

“As our current CAR T therapies are helping to transform the lives of our patients in the clinic, in the lab we are continuing to develop a richer understanding of cellular therapies, with the goal of delivering deeper and more durable responses to an even greater number of patients,” he said.

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