CAR-T Cell Therapy at the UVM Health Network

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy is an innovative treatment for some types of blood cancers. It works by engineering your own infection-fighting white blood cells (T cells) to identify and destroy cancer cells.

The University of Vermont Health Network is home to the only cancer program in Vermont and northern New York offering CAR-T cell therapy. Our experienced team takes a patient-centered approach that delivers state-of-the-art treatment in a caring and supportive environment.

As a leading cancer program in the region, we offer:

  • National accreditation: Our program has received accreditation for CAR-T cell therapy from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). This achievement reflects the expertise of our physicians and a commitment to meeting national standards for quality and safety.
  • Expert team: At the UVM Health Network, you receive CAR-T cell therapy from medical oncologists who work closely with nurses, advanced practice providers, social workers, pharmacists, pathologists and quality assurance coordinators to provide the best possible care. As part of a health system anchored by an academic medical center, our physicians are leaders who also train the next generation of experts. 
  • Clinical trials: CAR-T cell therapy is an active area of research. Scientists are working to develop new CAR-T cell therapies, make existing ones more effective and expand the use of this technology to different cancer types. Our specialists participate in and lead clinical trials that give eligible patients access to new treatments before they become widely available.
  • Education and support: We understand that cancer treatment can be stressful. Our dedicated nurse coordinator provides information and guidance throughout your treatment. Your cancer care team also includes social workers who provide emotional support and help you navigate common issues, like changes in insurance. Our other supportive care services include health coaching, support groups and rehabilitation.

CAR-T Cell Therapy Services

CAR-T cell therapy is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat some types of leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. But research is uncovering new uses for this treatment and clinical trials are expanding rapidly.  

At the UVM Health Network, our specialists are familiar with the latest advances in cellular therapy. They provide careful evaluation to determine whether CAR-T cell therapy is appropriate for you. Factors your doctor will consider include: 

  • Cancer type 
  • Previous treatments you received
  • Your age
  • Your overall health

If your doctor determines you are eligible, the process for CAR-T cell therapy is as follows: 

Step 1: T Cell Removal

Your doctor collects some of your T cells using a process called leukapheresis. During this procedure your provider will draw blood, separate out the T cells, then return your blood back to you.

Step 2: T Cell Engineering

Your doctor sends the T cells to a laboratory, where they are genetically modified to produce surface receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs recognize and bind to cancer cells so your T cells can attack them. The lab then creates millions of copies of the CAR-T cells.

CAR-T cell production usually takes a few weeks. While you wait, you may receive bridging therapy to prevent cancer from advancing. Types of bridging therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and steroids.

Step 3: Administering CAR-T Cells

Once CAR-T cell production is complete, you undergo several days of chemotherapy so your body doesn’t reject the new cells. The CAR-T cells are then delivered into your blood through an intravenous infusion. 

Step 4: Short-Term Monitoring

Over the next month, your care team will monitor you closely for side effects. You may spend part of this time in the hospital. If you are not in the hospital, you will need to stay close to the UVM Medical Center, where this treatment is offered, to attend frequent appointments.  

The UVM Health Network partners with the American Cancer Society to offer free accommodations at the Hope Lodge for patients and families who live more than 40 miles outside of Burlington. This home away from home is located next to the UVM Medical Center and features amenities such as private guest rooms and bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and free laundry facilities.

Step 5: Long-Term Monitoring

Two to three months after you receive the CAR-T cells, your doctor will perform imaging or blood tests to find out if therapy was effective. CAR-T cells can remain in your blood and protect you from cancer for several years. Your doctor will develop a long-term plan to monitor your progress.

James N. Gerson, MD
Medical Oncology