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27th Apr 2022

“Ground-breaking” cancer treatment now available for children in Ireland

Sarah McKenna Barry

The therapy will make a huge difference to many children with cancer in Ireland.

A cancer treatment that has been hailed as “ground-breaking” is now available to children in Ireland through CHI Crumlin.

The therapy, Chimeric antigen receptor therapy, or CAR-T therapy, is used to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, which is very common form of childhood cancer. As RTÉ reports, 55 children, on average are diagnosed with this form of leukaemia in Ireland every year.

Previously, Irish patients wishing to avail of the therapy had to travel to the UK.

According to the American Cancer Society, CAR-T therapy uses T cells to fight cancer by changing them in the lab so that they can “find and destroy cancer cells”.

The American Cancer Society says that CAR-T therapy “can be very helpful in treating some types of cancer, even when other treatments are no longer working.”

Announcing the new service on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Pamela Evans, who is the consultant haematologist and clinical lead, described the therapy as “probably the most significant advance in leukaemia treatment in a generation”.

She explained that the service has officially launched in Ireland and children are currently undergoing it in the Crumlin hospital, and explained how it works.

“It’s a whole new way of treating cancer that harnesses the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease,” Dr Evans said

“We take a patient’s own T-Cells which are one of the white blood cells, whose job it is to protect the body from foreign invaders, including cancers and leukaemia. But unfortunately cancers and leukaemia are quite good at hiding from the immune system, particularly when cancer starts in one of those immune cells, which is the case with leukaemia.

“Those T-cells are taken from the patient and go to a pharmaceutical laboratory, where they are changed, new DNA is inserted into them that is essentially like installing new software, redirecting them to more effectively target the cancer cells that they were ignoring beforehand.”

When asked about what difference the therapy being made available in Ireland makes, Dr Evans said that it is going to make an “enormous difference”.

“It has far-reaching potential beyond acute B cell leukaemia,” she said. “This is only the start. We hope that it’ll soon be available for treating other types of leukaemia.”