Abu Dhabi stem-cell trial offers hope to cancer patients

Programmed cells become a 'living drug' that uses the immune system to attack disease

A clinical trial into a new cancer therapy in Abu Dhabi has produced positive results – the first step towards proving the safety and efficacy of the treatment in the UAE.

Car T-cell therapy, where stem cells are engineered to fight off cancer, is currently available at only a limited number of specialist hospitals in Europe, the US and Israel.

But research is being carried out at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre to bring the treatment to UAE hospitals, where it will be used primarily to fight bone marrow and blood cancers.

The process extracts T cells – the bedrock of our immune systems – from a patient’s blood. These are then genetically altered in a lab.

During our 12-day experiment, we are happy to report that we have successfully manufactured and expanded autologous Car T-cells from a healthy volunteer
Dr Yendry Ventura, immunologist

An artificial chimeric antigen receptor is added to improve the T-cells' ability to identify cancer cells and destroy them.

The upgraded Car T-cell is then injected into the patient’s blood.

Dr Yendry Ventura, immunologist and general manager of the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre and principal investigator in this clinical trial, celebrated the successful results.

"During our 12-day experiment, we are happy to report that we have successfully manufactured and expanded autologous Car T-cells from a healthy volunteer," he said.

"Most significantly, we have been able to achieve the cells’ expansion with the highest levels of quality control and productivity, attaining a higher-than-average cell count with no contamination.

"This result is very encouraging because it explains the possibility of producing immune cells programmed to fight cancer cells with high efficiency that exceeds the allowed standards in clinical uses with regards of the extent of purity, viability and cell dose.

"The goal during this initial stage was to ensure the effectiveness of the used technology, guarantee standardisation and have the local research institute prepare to enter the next phase of clinical trials.”

The Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre, the first in the UAE, was established in 2019. It has the aim of meeting the growing local and regional demand for the most advanced and innovative medical services and treatments.

It focuses its efforts on providing the latest research on stem cells in the region according to the highest-quality standards and the highest levels of patient satisfaction at every step of the care journey, including treatment and follow-up, whether for staff or patients and their families.

"We are on the threshold of entering a new phase in our endeavours to design the first Emirati programme for programmed immune cell therapy using Car T-cell receptors and to give hope to patients suffering from various types of blood cancers," said Dr Fatima AlKaabi, co-principal investigator in the trial.

"We look forward to announcing more successes and we are ready to start the clinical trials."

Car T-cell therapy is one of the new, globally recognised forms of immunotherapies that use the body's defence system by reprogramming immune cells.

These are an essential component of the body's response mechanism to fight tumours, preparing them to carry out the tasks of searching for and eliminating cancer.

"These programmed cells become a living drug that travels through the body and constantly uses the immune system to attack disease," Dr AlKaabi said.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed visits the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre

Updated: October 11, 2021, 8:46 AM