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Research News

4/19/2022 MetroHealth Begins Work on Northeast Ohio's Only CAR T-Cell Cancer Lab, Opening Set for September

The MetroHealth System this week began work on its new CAR T-cell cancer lab, which promises to bring cutting-edge treatment to cancer patients of all backgrounds while also fulfilling a key promise of the Innovation District.

Construction began to renovate labs in MetroHealth’s Rammelkamp Research Center. The CAR T-cell labs are expected to open in September. MetroHealth will be the only hospital in Northeast Ohio to produce its own cells in this groundbreaking treatment, and only the second public hospital in the United States to offer it.

“This innovation allows The MetroHealth System to continue as one of the nation's pioneers in research and to make outstanding medical testing, screening and cancer treatment available to a large, diverse population and, in many cases, to patients who haven’t had access in the past,” said William Tse, MD, MetroHealth’s director of hematology/oncology.

The new lab will produce cellular- and vector-based therapies for the treatment of cancer. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is different from chemotherapy or radiation. It is a way to get a type of white blood cell called T-cells to fight cancer by changing them in a lab so they can find and destroy cancer cells.

According to the American Cancer Society, the immune system recognizes foreign substances in the body by finding proteins called antigens. T-cells have their own proteins called receptors that attach to foreign antigens and help trigger other parts of the immune system to destroy the foreign substance.

Each foreign antigen has a unique immune receptor that is able to bind to it. Cancer cells also have antigens, but if your immune cells don't have the right receptors, they can't attach to the antigens and help destroy the cancer cells.

In this form of treatment, blood is drawn from a patient. T-cells are extracted and then changed by adding a gene, which helps the T-cells attach to a specific cancer cell antigen and fight the cancer. Those cells are grown and multiplied in the lab over several weeks and then put back into the patient.

This relatively new treatment is viewed as having less side effects than chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

This immunotherapy treatment has typically been only available to patients with extensive insurance plans. With its diverse patient base, MetroHealth will be able to offer this groundbreaking treatment to a much larger group of patients than is typical. It will also permit MetroHealth to better prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Part of the funding for the project comes from JobsOhio, the state’s economic development corporation. The project is part of the Innovation District, a partnership between MetroHealth, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State University and University Hospitals. 

1/19/22 MetroHealth Awarded NIH Funding to Study Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Screening for Liver Cancer

Dr. Bolin Niu, Director of Hepatology and Dr. Ronnie Fass, Director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, are Site Principal Investigators (PI) for a $3.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the prevalence and causes of racial and ethnic disparities in screening for liver cancer in patients with cirrhosis.

MetroHealth is one of five safety net health care organizations participating in the study. The study will investigate patient, provider and system level factors contributing to the lower levels of liver cancer screening in minority populations with cirrhosis.

Robert John Wong, MD, staff physician in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University is the Principal Investigator.

The multi-center project is titled "Racial and Ethnic disparities in hepatocellular carcinoma surveillance among patients with cirrhosis across five safety net organizations." Dr. Niu is Assistant Professor of Medicine and Dr. Fass is Professor of Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.