Immunotherapy research and treatment has generated excitement and progress in healthcare. It’s a treatment that is providing patients with a new, lower toxicity way of treating their cancer, and it uses the power of the patient’s immune system.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and our partners are no stranger to progressive therapies. Bone marrow transplantation is heralded as one of the most groundbreaking discoveries in the history of cancer treatment; with this procedure, Fred Hutch laid the foundation for immunotherapy in the 1970s when they spurred discoveries that our immune systems could be made to treat our cancer.
We heard from one of our experts, Dr. Evan Yu, to find out just what immunotherapy is, and why it’s making headlines for the way it treats cancer.
Transcript: “So when you hear the term “immunotherapy”, I think the first thing that people think about is that ‘this is a great therapy, because the whole idea behind it is that it’s using my own immune system.’ And I think that’s the best way to think about immunotherapy, is that it’s not one therapy, but it’s a lot of different therapies but the whole sum or host of the idea is to try to accentuate your own immune system, which is clearly not behaving as it should, because if it is behaving perfectly it should eradicate cancer before it really has a chance to take. So when I think about immunotherapy, I’m thinking about how can we accentuate your own immune system to really go after your cancer cells and take them out.
So when you think about immunotherapy, and how it really works, there are a lot of different ways to stimulate the immune system. So let me explain a little bit about the components of the immune system. I think the key thing to realize is that cancer has a lot of genetic alterations. There are mutations that occur that are abnormal. As a result, they express abnormal proteins. These abnormal proteins can be targets for your immune system, and how your immune system works is that there are components that will engulf abnormal things: abnormal viruses, abnormal proteins expressed on bacteria, abnormal proteins expressed on cancer cells. And as they uptake that, these are components that the innate immune system, some might call them antigen presenting cells, they then present that protein on the surface and then teach other components of your immune system, mostly what we call the adaptive immune system. This adaptive immune system is specific, because it gets educated by these presented proteins to then go after a certain target. And we think about it as the B cells that make antibodies that go after the targets, and the T cells that get stimulated to go directly to the target. And in the instance of cancer, they’ll go directly to the cancer and induce cell-kill that way, by releasing substances that then can kill the cancer cells.”
For more information on immunotherapy and clinical trials, check out our website here.