Immunotherapy

Human blood cells

Immunotherapy is a process in which the immune system is enhanced, induced, or suppressed in order to maximize the body’s ability to remove disease on its own, without interference from harmful drugs. In cancer, immunotherapy refers to the process through which the body’s immune system is trained to remove tumor cells. This approach is also known as Biologic Therapy.

Antibodies and the Immune System

The immune system is a network of specialized cells that defend the body against "foreign" invaders including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Antibodies are proteins that serve as cell “tags” to help the immune system. Each antibody is designed to bind to one specific type of antigen. Antigens are cell markers that help identify a specific type of cell. When an antibody binds to an antigen, it marks it for destruction by the body’s immune cells (B-cells and Natural Killer cells).

For example, a virus will produce a specific type of antigen. This antigen will bind to a specific antibody in the system. Any immune cells that come in contact with that antibody will recognize the virus as an intruder and destroy it.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies (MABs or MOABs) work on cancer cells in the same way natural antibodies work, by identifying and binding to the target cells. They then alert other cells in the immune system to the presence of the cancer cells. MABs are specific for a particular antigen - one designed for a B-cell lymphoma will not work on cells for ovarian cancer cells for example. Newer treatments such as Zevalin® combine radioummunotherapy with monoclonal antibody therapy. This treatment is gaining recognition due to its effectiveness and short treatment duration.

Vaccines

Vaccines are another method used to stimulate an immune response, though research is still being conducted. Researchers have harvested special immune cells, called dendritic cells, from patients. Dendritic cells copy antigens and present them to the immune system. When a lymphocyte (B-cell or T-cell) “learns” about an antigen from a dendritic cell, it can then go and destroy cells with similar antigens.

Scientists expose dendritic cells to high levels of antigens produced by cancerous cells, so they become primed to attack tumors. These primed cells can then be injected into patients for use in targeting and destroying cancer.

T-Cell Immunotherapy

T-Cell Immunotherapy is similar to vaccination in that immune cells are primed to attack tumors. T-cells are harvested and primed to attack cancer cells. They are then injected directly into tumors.

Clinical Trials

Research in this field is ongoing. Talk to your medical team about the latest advances in this field. Clinical trials are ongoing in many places.

Follow this link to identify a conveniently located cancer treatment center and begin the process of enrollment.

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