Before we dive deeper into the concept of immunotherapy, it’s essential for us to know what the immune system is and what it does.
The immune system is a collection of special cells, organs, and substance that protects the body from infections and diseases. These special immune cells and the substances that they make travel across the body via the bloodstream and protect the body from infection-causing germs.
The immune system keeps track of all the naturally found substances in the body. When a foreign substance enters the body, the immune system recognizes it and launches an attack against it as a response. The main aim of this immune response is to destroy these foreign substances and keep the body healthy.
However, in the case of cancer cells, the immune system has a hard time targeting them because cancer starts when normal cells get altered and start growing out of control. So the immune system has a hard time recognizing these cells as foreign.
People with healthy immune systems might still develop cancer because there are limitations on the immune system’s ability to fight cancer alone.
- Sometimes the immune system might not recognize cancer cells as foreign
- Sometimes the response might not be strong enough
- Sometimes the cancer cells themselves give off substances that might keep the immune system from finding them.
Amidst all these loopholes, researchers have found a solution in the form of Immunotherapy that can help the immune system recognize these cancer cells and strengthen its response against them.
Immunotherapy, also known as Immuno-Oncology (IO) uses a person’s immune system to fight diseases like cancer. It does so by:
- Boosting the natural defense of the immune system
- Makin substances that are similar to immune system components and use them to restore the immune system’s attacks against the cancer cells
Types of Immunotherapy
- Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors – These are drugs that block the immune checkpoints which are responsible for keeping the immune responses in check and prevent them from being too strong. With these drugs, the immune cells respond more strongly to cancer
- T-Cell Transfer Therapy – Also known as Adoptive Immunotherapy, this therapy works on boosting the natural ability of the T-cells to fight cancer. In this, immune cells are taken from the tumor and the ones that are most active against the cancer are selected, grown in large batches in a lab, and put back into the body intravenously.
- Monoclonal Antibodies – These are immune system proteins created in the lab that bind to specific targets on cancer cells. They can also mark cancer cells so that they are better seen by the immune system, helping it attack them more efficiently.
- Treatment Vaccines – These are vaccines that work against cancer by boosting the response of the immune system towards cancer cells.
- Immune System Modulators – These modulators enhance the body’s response against cancer. Some of these agents might affect specific parts of the system whereas some might affect them in a more general way.