Science 3 min read

Immunotherapy Uses the Body's own Defenses as Cancer Treatment

Wilmot Cancer Institute |

Wilmot Cancer Institute |

The cells of the immune system are there to protect us against bacteria, viruses, and other intruders. Yet, in the face of cancer, they seem to be helpless and ill-equipped. Industry 4.0 leverages existing infrastructure to solve efficiency problems, and immunotherapy mobilizes our immune system to fight against tumors.

Immunotherapy is a result of doctors and researchers following all possible leads in the battle against cancer. Now experiencing unprecedented growth, immunotherapy methodology inspires real enthusiasm among experts.

#EdgyLabs tracks the growth of #immunotherapy in fighing #cancer.Click To Tweet

How Tumor Cells Overcome Immune System Defenses

The human immune system wins many battles against viruses and bacteria. However, when it comes to cancers, the immune system has a hard time keeping up with cancer’s many counter-defenses and unique tactics.

Many types of cancer cells will merge into surrounding tissues and convince the immune system that they do not represent a danger.

Cancer cells thwart T lymphocytes – a type of white blood cells that make up the immune system’s foot soldiers – notably by deregulating their engage and disengage systems. To engage, the T-cell goes on the offensive and destroys a target cell. Once the threat is contained, the T lymphocyte then disengages from its offensive.

However, if the T lymphocyte binds to a tumor cell, it is forced to disengage. Cancerous cells can then wreak havoc.

Immunotherapy: A Medical Holy Grail

William Bradley Coley (1862-1936), a bone surgeon and a pioneer of immunotherapy, well before cancer chemotherapy was the common treatment, decided to try a completely different approach. Rather than directly attacking the cell, he used an infectious agent to stimulate the patient’s own immune defenses that would attack and destroy the infected cells. Dr. Coley created a mixture of dead bacteria called “Coley’s toxins” and administered them by injection. The remedy was effective, even with metastatic cancers.

Immunotherapy was born. Poorly received by the scientific community of the time, it has only recently been revived and explored as a method for treating cancer.

If you ask Hucky Land, Ph.D., director of research at Wilmot Cancer Institute (WCI), scientists have discovered many promising new immunotherapies. To avoid hyper-stimulation, the immune system will offset its response to foreign entities. According to Land, only recently have scientists incited the immune system to kill cancer cells without disturbing its balance.

“That’s why this moment is so important. We’re learning how to use immunotherapy appropriately to fight cancer,” Land said.

Bone Marrow Transplants: a Reliable Example

Bone marrow transplants (BMTs) are great examples of successful contemporary immunotherapy. BMTs are carried out by implanting healthy immune cells from a patient’s sibling to combat cancer cells. Often times this can lead to remission and even a cure. Recently, the WCI carried out its 3,000th BMT procedure. Always looking ahead, WCI researchers are testing the effectiveness of prospective donors and striving for 100% efficiency.


Looking Ahead

According to several specialists, immunotherapy could shake up anticancer treatments. Take metastatic melanoma, a dreadful cancer for which doctors had no answer. By focusing their research on a tumor cell’s interaction with the environment, and in particular the cells of the immune system, scientists have succeeded in developing drugs (such as pembrolizumab) capable of thwarting the defense mechanisms of tumors.

In recent years, the buzz surrounding immunotherapy grew. Science Magazine declared immunotherapy discipline at the top of its list of major advances in 2013. And if some skeptics still doubted, the biggest annual clinical cancer gathering, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), shares a common view.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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