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Cancer cells (illustrative)

Israel’s Health Ministry has just added treatment with CAR-T cells – a new immunotherapy treatment – to the public health coverage approved for cancer treatment in the health basket for national health insurance.

CAR-T cell stands for “Chimeric Antigen Receptor” T-Cell therapy. It’s used in the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma.

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Explained in simple terms, immune T-cells from the patient’s own body are removed, mixed with new proteins that will allow the immune cells to recognize the cancer, and then returned to the body as “living drugs” in a form of “immunotherapy.”

An explanation on Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center website gives further details: “An amount of blood is taken from the patient and the T-cells, a type of immune cell, are separated out from the rest of the blood in a special laboratory. The T-cells are then genetically engineered to cause them to produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). The CARs will allow the T-cells to recognize tumor cells, targeting and destroying the tumor.

“The engineered T-cells are given some time to multiply in the laboratory and then injected back into the patient. The patient receives chemotherapy while the cells are growing in the lab. The chemotherapy will suppress the patient’s immune system, allowing the CAR T-cells to perform better once they’re injected.”

CAR-T therapy is limited to patients under 50 years old due to possible side effects, and the protocol requires hospitalization of at least two weeks, according to Sheba Medical Center. Young patients in particular have had great success in recovery with this form of treatment, up to 90 percent in young children and approximately 80 percent in teens.

The treatment has also been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Agency (FDA) for general use in the United States.

Now Israel has added it to the list of treatments approved for Israeli patients under national health insurance.

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