Immunotherapy: Breakthrough in Cancer Treatment
Science and technology have advanced a lot over time and it has brought a revolution in the medical industry. Cancer remains extremely deadly, and researchers have not found a complete cure. It has plagued humanity for a long time. The traditional and most common methods used to treat cancer included chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical procedures that removed the affected organ. However, the introduction of different immunotherapy has opened a new dimension for the treatment of different types of cancer.
Understanding The Role of Immunotherapy in Treating Cancer
Immunotherapy aims to train the immune system of the human body to fight against cancer. The human body has a complex network of organs, tissues, and cells that form the immune system. This immune system is naturally designed to protect the body against foreign harmful substances. In its natural state, the immune system does not recognize the cancer cells as foreign and therefore is not trained to attack and destroy them. Immunotherapy uses various ways to boost the immune system and trains it to identify and kill cancer cells.
Different Types of Immunotherapy
- Non-specific immune stimulation – This is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates a patient’s immune system in a general way. Non-specific immune stimulation utilizes drugs or other substances to enhance the overall immune response, aiding in the destruction of cancer cells. After undergoing surgery to remove bladder cancer, medical professionals might administer a substance called BCG to the patient.. Injecting BCG into the bladder stimulates a non-specific immune response, killing lingering cancer cells post-surgery. This prevents the chances of cancer recurrence.
- T-cell transfer therapy – T-cell transfer therapy is another type of immune therapy that uses the T-cells. T-cells are a type of immune cells. These are powerful weapons that our immune system uses to fight cancer. In T-cell transfer therapy, researchers take T-cells from the patient’s body and treat them in the laboratory to enhance their ability to target and kill the patient’s cancer cells. The laboratory grows multiple copies of these specially treated T-cells and then inserts them back into the patient’s body to combat cancer.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors – Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a third type of immunotherapy. The immune checkpoints on cell surfaces help to control an immune response. Usually, immune checkpoints keep T-cells inactive, that is in an “off” state, until they are needed. This prevents the T-cells from harming any normal cell. Cancer cells can take advantage of these checkpoints to switch T cells off. This prevents the cancer cells from being killed. Immune checkpoint inhibitors refer to substances that block the checkpoints. Thus the T-cells are free to attack the cancer cells.
Advancement in Immunotherapy
- Bispecific Antibodies: Precision Targeting
Bispecific antibodies are a class of immunotherapeutic agents designed to simultaneously bind to both cancer cells and immune cells, facilitating targeted destruction of the tumor. Blinatumomab, approved for certain types of leukemia, exemplifies the potential of bispecific antibodies in redirecting the immune system to precisely target cancer cells. Ongoing research aims to expand the application of bispecific antibodies to a broader range of cancers, enhancing their therapeutic impact.
- Adoptive Cell Transfer: Enhancing Natural Defenses
Adoptive cell transfer involves isolating and expanding immune cells, such as tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), outside the body and then reintroducing them to target and eliminate cancer cells. This approach has shown promise in treating melanoma and other solid tumors. The continuous refinement of adoptive cell transfer techniques, coupled with advances in genetic engineering, holds the potential to broaden its applicability across various cancer types.
- Monoclonal Antibodies
In the lab, scientists specially designed monoclonal antibodies to mimic the immune system’s ability to combat harmful pathogens. Monoclonal antibodies used in cancer treatment actively identify and bind to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells. This marks the cancer cells and it becomes easier for the immune system to destroy the cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies like rituximab and trastuzumab treat various cancers, including lymphoma and breast cancer.
Challenges and Future Directions
While the strides in cancer immunotherapy are undoubtedly promising, challenges persist. These treatments do not yield equal responses in all patients, and they can induce immune-related side effects.
Moreover, the high cost of immunotherapies poses a significant barrier to widespread accessibility. The future of cancer immunotherapy lies in overcoming these challenges and unlocking its full potential. Ongoing research explores combination therapies, personalized treatment approaches, and biomarkers that can predict patient response. The quest for identifying new targets and refining existing techniques remains crucial for expanding the spectrum of cancers amenable to immunotherapy.
The advancements in immunotherapy in treating cancer serve as a ray of hope in the field of diagnosis and treatment of cancer. With all the technologies and approaches used in immunotherapy, it aims to provide patients with a more compact, personalized, and targeted solution. It has widened the availability of options available for treating different types of cancer and has changed the dynamics and landscape of cancer treatment. The advanced form of treatment also aims to reduce the chances of cancer recurrence which is a sigh of great relief as this recurrence could prove to be extremely fatal in some cases.
As the process of immunotherapy is still under much research, the future seems to be very promising. Further studies and advancements can bring out more potential and effective ways to use immunotherapy to combat cancer.