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Immune Cells - Immunotherapy for Cancer

April 17, 2022
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

Immunotherapy for Cancer

The immune system is a collection of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from infection. The cells of the immune system can recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system also recognizes and destroys cancer cells.

immune cells

The main types of immune cells are B cells, T cells, Natural killer (NK) cells, and macrophages.

What are T Cells?

T cells are a type of white blood cell that is crucial to the immune system. They can recognize cancer cells as being different from normal, healthy cells. When they see cancer cells, they are supposed to kill them. But sometimes cancer cells can find ways to avoid being killed by these cells. The Philadelphia doctors found a way to take T-cells from people with cancer, grow more of them in the lab, and give them back to the patients. The T-cells were now more likely to kill the cancer cells.

This new immunotherapy was decidedly different from the treatments people received before. Instead of attacking cancer with poisons like chemotherapy and radiation, the Philadelphia doctors taught the immune cells to become more adept at killing the cancer cells. This is the basic concept behind immunotherapy.

 

What are B Cells?

B cells are another type of white blood cell. B cells make proteins called antibodies. Antibodies attach to viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders and help destroy them.

Sometimes, cancer cells can find ways to avoid being destroyed by B cells. The Philadelphia doctors found a way to take B cells from people with cancer, grow more of them in the lab, and give them back to the patients. The B cells were now more likely to make antibodies that would attach to and help destroy the cancer cells.

What are Natural Killer Cells?

Natural killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cell that can kill cancer cells and viruses. NK cells are important because they can kill cancer cells that have found ways to avoid being killed by T cells and B cells. The Philadelphia doctors found a way to take NK cells from people with cancer, grow more of them in the lab, and give them back to the patients. The NK cells were now more likely to kill the cancer cells.

What are Macrophages?

Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that can eat foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Macrophages are important because they can kill cancer cells that have found ways to avoid being killed by T cells, B cells, and NK cells. The Philadelphia doctors found a way to take macrophages from people with cancer, grow more of them in the lab, and give them back to the patients. The macrophages were now more likely to kill the cancer cells.

How Does Immunotherapy Work?

Immunotherapy for cancer works by helping the immune system kill cancer cells. The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that work together to protect the body from infection. Cancer cells can grow and divide out of control, and they sometimes find ways to avoid being killed by the immune system.

Immunotherapy for cancer can be used alone or with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

t cells

There are several types of immunotherapy:

Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that are designed to bind to specific receptors on cancer cells. This helps the immune system recognize and destroy the cancer cells.

Checkpoint inhibitors: Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that work by taking the brakes off the immune system. Cancer cells sometimes find ways to avoid being recognized and destroyed by the immune system. Checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking these brakes, which allows the immune system to kill the cancer cells.

Cytokines: Cytokines are proteins that help stimulate the immune system. They can be used alone or with other immunotherapy treatments.

Vaccines: Vaccines are substances that are used to stimulate the immune system to recognize and destroy specific types of cancer cells.

T cell adoptive therapy: T cell adoptive therapy is a type of immunotherapy that uses T cells from the patient’s own body. The T cells are taken from the blood or bone marrow and are grown in the laboratory. They are then injected back into the patient, where they will help kill the cancer cells.

 

What are the side effects of Immunotherapy?

The side effects of immunotherapy vary depending on the type of treatment. They can range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and pains

Immunotherapy can also cause the immune system to attack healthy cells in the body. This is called an autoimmune reaction. Autoimmune reactions can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Chest pain

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new medical approach, device, drug, or other treatment. Clinical trials are done to find out if new treatments are both safe and effective. Immunotherapy clinical trials are ongoing in an effort to find new and better ways to treat cancer.

b cells

If you would like to learn more about cancer-related topics, visit our blog!

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