Cell and Gene Therapy

Unlocking the Power of Metabolism: Enhancing CAR-T Cell Therapy for Cancer Treatment

Published March. 27. 2024

Cancer continues to be one of the most formidable challenges to global health, claiming millions of lives each year. However, amidst this grim reality, the realm of cancer therapy is witnessing remarkable advancements, offering newfound hope in the battle against this relentless disease. At the forefront of this revolution are Chimeric Antigen Receptor-T (CAR-T) cells, a groundbreaking form of immunotherapy engineered to target and destroy cancer cells with unprecedented precision. While CAR-T cell therapy has demonstrated remarkable success in treating certain types of blood cancers, its efficacy against solid tumours has been more limited. Now, a pioneering study led by Dr. Yi Zhang from the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, China, sheds light on a promising avenue for enhancing CAR-T cell therapy: metabolism.

Published in the Chinese Medical Journal on March 19, 2024, the research conducted by Dr. Zhang’s team delves into the intricate interplay between metabolic processes and CAR-T cell function within the tumour microenvironment (TME). The TME, characterized by its hostile and nutrient-deprived conditions, presents formidable challenges to the survival and efficacy of CAR-T cells. Tumour cells voraciously consume vital metabolites such as glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids, depriving T cells of the nutrients they need to thrive and mount an effective immune response against cancer.

The study highlights how dysregulated metabolism within the TME creates an immunosuppressive milieu, hindering CAR-T cell function. For instance, the acidic environment resulting from cancer cell metabolism inhibits T cell activity, while lipid accumulation impairs T cell infiltration into tumours. Furthermore, metabolic alterations within the TME can lead to reduced oxygen levels and mitochondrial dysfunction, further compromising T cell function.

To address these challenges, researchers are exploring innovative strategies to modulate T cell metabolism and enhance the efficacy of CAR-T cell therapy. The study outlines three key approaches to metabolic intervention:

  1. Targeting Immunosuppressive Metabolites: By inhibiting the activity or concentration of immunosuppressive metabolites in the TME, researchers aim to unleash the full potential of CAR-T cells. Techniques such as gene editing and targeted drug delivery systems offer promising avenues for neutralizing molecules like adenosine, thereby enhancing T cell activation and response.
  2. Enhancing Metabolite Uptake: Augmenting the capacity of CAR-T cells to uptake and utilize essential metabolites within the TME is critical for sustaining their anti-tumour activity. Enzyme modifications, such as the introduction of ornithine transcarbamylase or argininosuccinate synthase, can bolster metabolite synthesis and utilization, even in nutrient-deprived conditions.
  3. Improving Mitochondrial Metabolism: Optimizing mitochondrial function within CAR-T cells is essential for enhancing their persistence and tumour-killing capacity. Genetic modifications and targeted drug therapies aimed at enhancing mitochondrial mass and biogenesis offer promising avenues for bolstering CAR-T cell activity, particularly in the context of solid tumours.

These metabolic-focused strategies represent a paradigm shift in the approach to CAR-T cell therapy, offering new hope for patients with both hematologic and solid cancers. Dr. Zhang and his team envision a future where innovative engineering techniques and combination therapies unlock the full potential of CAR-T cells, offering cancer patients a pathway to safe, long-term remission. As the field of cancer immunotherapy continues to evolve, harnessing the power of metabolism may hold the key to overcoming the barriers that have long hindered effective cancer treatment.

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