From the Journals

Groups release guidelines for CAR T treatment in children



New comprehensive guidelines for pediatric use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies emphasize the need for a flexible approach to detect early signs of serious complications for younger patients treated with this emerging class of medicines.

Dr. Kris Michael Mahadeo of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

Dr. Kris Michael Mahadeo

Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury and Sepsis Investigators Network (PALISI) developed the guidelines, which were published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. The recommendations build on the guidelines for more general use of these medicines from MD Anderson’s CARTOX Program, which Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology published in 2017.

Among the chief concerns with this new class of medicines are cytokine-release syndrome (CRS) and CAR T cell-related encephalopathy syndrome (CRES), according to Kris Michael Mahadeo, MD MPH, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and his coauthors of the new paper.

Some of the tools used for older patients in screening for complications with CAR T drugs don’t work as well with younger ones, Dr. Mahadeo said in an interview. For instance, at MD Anderson, a handwriting sample is used to monitor patients for CAR T cell-related encephalopathy syndrome, which has symptoms of confusion and delirium. Patients provide a baseline handwriting sample of a single sentence that’s scanned into the medical record, and then they are asked to write this again during their time in the hospital, he said. But this tool may not work for children too young to write well.

The new guidelines suggest using the Cornell Assessment of Pediatric Delirium (CAPD) or to evaluate a child’s mental state, asking questions about eye contact, and level of awareness and mood, Dr. Mahadeo said. An alternative for patients aged 12 years and older with greater cognitive ability is the CARTOX-10 grading system.

“The nurses who spent most of the day with these patients will observe them over their shift and kind of get an idea of what was normal and answer a series of questions” through the CAPD tool, which is already used in ICUs, Dr. Mahadeo said. “It takes into consideration both the nurses’ perception and the parents, or whoever is at the bedside with the child. So that if they have a concern, it gives them a point that actually escalates things upward.”

The newly published recommendations also remind physicians and others caring for young patients to pay attention to these reports.

“Parent and/or caregiver concerns should be addressed because early signs or symptoms of CRS can be subtle and best recognized by those who know the child best,” Dr. Mahadeo and his colleagues wrote in a summary of key recommendations in the paper.

The recommendations also noted a need for close monitoring for complications such as hypotension, hypocalcemia, and catheter-related pain in young patients who require a leukapheresis catheter for cell collection. Infant and younger children “might not verbalize these symptoms,” according to the researchers.

Other recommendations include:

  • Obtaining the child’s assent when appropriate, with psychological services often aiding in this goal. Dr. Mahadeo and his colleagues recommend considering “age-appropriate advance directives.”
  • Maintaining high vigilance for sinus tachycardia as an early sign of CRS, using age-specific normal range or baseline values.
  • Giving pediatric dosing of tocilizumab, with patients weighing less than 30 kg receiving 12 mg/kg, and those weighing 30 kg or greater receiving 8 mg/kg.
  • Considering participation with a prospective collaboration with intensive-care registries that could allow accurate data entry of cell-therapy variables into the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research registry by cell-therapy programs.


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