CAR T-Cell Therapy | Cancer

CAR T-Cell Therapy

CAR T-cell therapy offers new hope to people with cancer and other diseases that don’t respond to standard treatments. We offer extensive experience in this groundbreaking therapy.

Medically reviewed by Brian Jonas, M.D. on Oct. 12, 2023.

Doctor talking to male patient about CAR T-Cell Therapy

Leveling Up Your Immune System

CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy reprograms your immune cells to better target diseases. Because it uses your immune system, it is considered a type of immunotherapy.

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we are regional leaders in the development and use of CAR T-cell therapy. Our new Malignant Hematology, Cellular Therapy and Transplantation Program offers advanced treatments and clinical trials. We are the first in the region to manufacture CAR T cells on site.

On this page

How Does CAR T-Cell Therapy Work?

Your immune system constantly monitors your body for potential threats. White blood cells called T cells are key to this process. All T cells have proteins on them called receptors.

To understand how the therapy works, it’s important to know the components involved:

T Cells and Antigens

T cell receptors and antigens fit together like a lock and key. T cell receptors will only latch on to — and destroy — the antigen they match.

Immune System

Sometimes, your immune system’s T cell receptors don’t recognize a cancer cell’s antigens. Other times, they can’t mount a response large enough to neutralize the threat.

Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs)

Scientists can now re-engineer T cells to have receptors that identify and match specific antigens. These CARs quickly target the disease and destroy it.

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



UC Davis Health Referring Physicians

For providers in UC Davis Medical Group or our Cancer Care Network

External Referring Physicians

For providers who are external clinicians

Preparing for CAR T-Cell Therapy

It takes several weeks to complete CAR T-cell treatment. The process involves three main steps and then close monitoring by your medical team for more than a month. Our specialists identify any side effects so we can address them quickly and effectively.

  • Doctor talking to a female patient

    Collecting the T-Cells (Leukapheresis)

    We draw blood from your arm with an IV over two to three hours as you sit or lie down. Your blood flows through the IV line into a special machine. This machine filters out the T cells and returns the blood to your body. We then refrigerate your T cells and send them to the UC Davis Health stem cell program.

  • Three people working in a lab

    Making the CAR T Cells

    In our lab, we add a gene to your T cells that matches their receptor to the specific disease you have. These CAR T cells then multiply over several weeks until we have millions. Because we engineer the CAR T cells on-site, they don’t have to be frozen, which helps maintain their quality.

  • Nurse looking at infusion bag with patient behind her in hospital bed.

    Conditioning and Infusing the CAR T Cells

    You may undergo a process called lymphodepleting conditioning before you are infused with your new CAR T cells. Lymphodepleting conditioning uses chemotherapy to decrease your immune cells to make room for the CAR T cells. A few days later, we infuse you with your CAR T cells using an IV.

CAR T-Cell Therapy Side Effects

While effective, CAR T cell therapy does have potential side effects. Some can be serious, such as cytokine release syndrome (CRS). To help avoid and treat these complications early, we closely watch you both in and out of the hospital.


Sometimes, multiplying CAR T cells release proteins called cytokines. Cytokines can cause your immune system to overreact and trigger inflammation throughout your body.

Nervous System Issues

CAR T-cell therapy can cause issues in your nervous system. As a result, some may experience headaches, loss of consciousness or balance, tremors or seizures or difficulty communicating.

Other Side Effects

Other potential CAR T-cell therapy side effects include allergic reactions, low blood cell counts, too many minerals in your blood and an increased infection risk.

Awards and Recognitions
USNWR Best Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best hospital in cancer, cardiology, heart & vascular surgery, diabetes & endocrinology, ENT, geriatrics, neurology & neurosurgery, obstetrics & gynecology, and pulmonology & lung surgery.

Learn more
US News & World Report best Children’s Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best children’s hospital in diabetes & endocrinology, nephrology, and orthopedics*. (*Together with Shriners Children’s)

Learn more
USNWR best regional hospital badge

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital by U.S. News, and high-performing in COPD, colon cancer surgery, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, hip fracture, hip replacement, kidney failure, leukemia, lymphoma & myeloma, lung cancer surgery, ovarian cancer surgery, pneumonia, prostate cancer surgery, stroke, TAVR, uterine cancer surgery, gastroenterology & GI surgery, and orthopedics.

Learn more
Magnet designation badge

The nation’s highest nursing honor

UC Davis Medical Center has received Magnet® recognition, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence.

Learn more
Chime acute badge

“Most Wired” for acute care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
Chime ambulatory badge

“Most Wired” for ambulatory care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
NCI badge

World-class cancer care

One of ~56 U.S. cancer centers designated “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute.

Learn more

A leader in health care equality

For the 11th consecutive year, UC Davis Medical Center has been recognized as a “Leader in LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality.”

Learn more
See more