Cancer treatment benefits from immunotherapy

The human body can be trained to fight cancer.

New research out of New York City shows that the human body can be trained to fight cancer.

Jedd D. Wolchok, an oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recently announced that new research indicates that “the immune system […] can control cancer” through the use of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that alters the body’s immune system, causing it to react differently to certain types of cells.

Wolchok, says that the new found research has shown how “the immune system… can control cancer.” A person’s immune system can be modified, through drug treatment, in a way that will allow it to recognize and attack cancer cells.

The immune system is composed of T-cells and B-cells that can recognize cells in a body. Based on what they recognize them as, they will either attack or ignore them. The immune system will attack a cell if it recognizes it to be a foreign, such as a virus or bacteria. The problem with cancer is that it is not foreign; it derived from the cells of the person’s body.

Until recently it was thought that there was no way of changing that, but there is. This new drug adds something called ipilimumab, a protein that temporarily blocks the T-cell’s use of CTLA-4, and allowing the T-cell to recognize cancer as foreign. CTLA-4 is a protein receptor on the T-cells that allow a T-cell to be ‘turned off’ after it’s been activated. If the CTLA-4 is inactivated on a T-cell and it comes in contact with a cancerous cells, it will wage war against them.

Through many trials using patients with melanoma, a type of skin cancer, Wolchok’s team have observed that although there is a period where patients get worst before they get better, the drug does work. The tumors patients had before they were treated shrunk, and when the researchers took samples of the remains of the tumors, they found that they were clusters of activated T-cells, and not cancerous. The treatment showed an improvement in thirty-two per cent of patient, and of the patients who did respond positively, very few of them died afterwards.

Another study was done using the same concept of incorporating the immune system in order to attack cancer, only it used the PD1 pathway instead of the TCLA-4 protein receptor. The PD1 pathway is important in controlling the activation of T-cells. Studies were done on patients with melanoma as well as advanced lung cancer, and both showed improvement. This is very significant because it shows that immunotherapy can work on multiple types on cancer.

Not only do these two strategies work separately, but they also work together. This could be a groundbreaking start to creating a new chemical cocktail that may lead us to curing cancer.

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