Although not directly related to viruses (yet), Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) may redefine how we give individuals immunity -- an important topic to discuss given how closely immunology and virology are intertwined.
CARs are a T cell therapy that involves collecting T cells from an individual patient and genetically engineering the cells so they generate special receptors -- CARs -- that enable the T cells to recognize desired antigens. After growing these engineered T cells in the laboratory, they are introduced into the patient again. And inside the body, these CAR T cells will recognize and kill any cells with the antigen of interest.
They are currently used in cancer immunotherapy, especially for childhood cancers. One trial gave T cells with CARs targeting the CD19 receptor to adults and children with leukemia and lymphoma. In this study, 27 out of 30 patients had all signs of cancer disappear and 19 of the 27 are still in remission.
Although there is much to be studied and refined in CAR T cell therapy, it certainly highlights a new way to confer immunity. By engineering the CARs in the laboratory, this therapy eliminates many of the variables and risk factors involved in vaccination, which relies on the immune system to successfully respond to a pathogen or its antigen.