Cancer is a killer there is no denying that.
Approximately 12.7 million people contract cancer every year of which 7.6 million people die. To prevent these deaths, several measures have been taken, and there is a hope that more and more people can be saved. If we look at what the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends, it says that by eating healthy, doing regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and by avoiding alcohol consumption, healthy people can prevent themselves from having cancer.
Since those recomendations are for healthy people, what about those who are already suffering from this condition?
That is where Immunotherapy comes in
If we break down the word, we get two terms:
- Immuno-: refers to the immune system of humans, and
- Therapy: It is the name of a set of treatment techniques.
Thus, from the above breakdown, we can learn that immunotherapy is basically treating cancer by utilizing the immune system of human beings. This is done by the administration of several drugs mentioned in this article later.
For now, know that our immune system is comprised of the lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, bone marrow, spleen, and white blood cells. Whenever there is an invasion by some foreign entity like germs, these components get activated and all the effective mechanisms are put to use in eliminating the threat. That could involve engulfing of the foreign body by the lymphocytes, or any other defensive mechanism.
How responsive is our immune system to cancerous cells?
Cancerous cells are very evasive. Our own immune system finds it hard to recognize them because the cancerous cells adapt to it.
Through the course of our lives, the cancerous cells are eliminated, still, these cells can escape immunity by suppressing the system through either maintaining a growth equilibrium or escaping the immunity checkpoint by activating CTLA-4 or PD-1 pathways. These pathways turn off the capacities of a T-lymphocyte.
The tumor cells can be barred from making the T-cells useless through the immunotherapy.
How effective is immunotherapy in strengthening T-cells?
When it comes to the effectiveness of our immunity in fighting off germs and abnormal cells, there is no denying that the system works. However, as we explained above, its effectiveness is reduced by the tumor cells. Thus, if there could be anyway which could lead to the inhibition of the pathways creation, then it definitely would be a win-win situation.
To know exactly how cancer drugs are effective, let us see some researches.
- The research conducted by Netherlands Cancer Institute have shown that the drug Ipilimumab (Yervoy) cures cancer effectively. This drug facilitates the immune system and provides it numerous molecular weapons with which it can target the cancer cells.
- In 2014, the National Cancer Institute researched about how our immune system can eliminate cancer cells by recognizing the mutant proteins as foreign bodies. Although the focus of the study was on the cells lining our organs and skin, the study proved to be fruitful in stating that our immunity can be used to kill cancerous cells.
- In 2015, research was conducted by the Health Sciences department of the University of California, Los Angeles. The result of this study was that the immunotherapy against lung cancer is more effective than chemotherapy.
As you can see from the above research examples, immunotherapy is proving to be a very reasonable cure for cancer.
What are some immunotherapy types?
- a) CTLA-4, and PD-1 suppressors: Dugs such as Ipilimumab (Yervoy) or Durvalumab (Imfinzi) are used to suppress the creation of these pathways. These drugs are termed as “immunity checkpoints”.
- b) Cancer vaccines: Cancer vaccines are made from the patient’s tumor cells in order to make the immune system responsive.
- c) Changing the T-cells: T-cells are removed from the body of the patient and are equipped with special receptors in a lab in order to make the detection process easy for them.
- d) Monoclonal antibodies: These antibodies are made artificially by biologists in a lab. They are designed to attack the cancer cells on specific places.
As the biological sciences are seeing advancements, new immunotherapy techniques, aside from those mentioned above, are developed. By having such therapies, we can say that the hope for people suffering from cancer is rejuvenated.