Cancer Sucks… Here’s how we (try) to treat it

Shreeya D -

Throughout the week, I spent time doing additional research for the process of immunotherapy and its developments.

The concept of using the immune system to combat cancer has its origins in the early 20th century when researchers observed occasional spontaneous relapses in cancer patients. These observations hinted at the possibility that the immune system might play a role in recognizing and eliminating cancer cells. However, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that researchers began to truly research the immune response. In the 1950s and 60s, scientists identified tumor-specific antigens, molecules expressed only on the surface of cancer cells. The antigens are used as possible targets to boost the body’s immune response and  to help diagnose certain types of cancer (NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, 2011).

The turn of the 21st century brought a shift in many aspects of science: the most relevant being the development of checkpoint inhibitors. As discussed previously, checkpoint inhibitors prevent an immune response from damaging the healthy cells in our body, and through further research, scientists engineered drugs like ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, and nivolumab to block the inhibitory signals emitted by cancer cells use to evade detection by the body’s immune system. For instance, an ipilimumab injection can be used alone or in combination with nivolumab to treat certain types of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) that has spread to other parts of the body, cannot be treated with surgery, or to even prevent melanoma from returning after a surgery (Ipilimumab Injection: MedlinePlus Drug Information, n.d.). This breakthrough led to success in treating various cancers and allowed treatments to be tailored to an individual patient’s immune profile.

Recently, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy- which involves genetically engineering a patient’s T cells to express a receptor that specifically targets cancer cells- is being popularized as a method of cancer immunotherapy treatment. In CAR-T therapy, blood is drawn from the vein in the patient’s arm into an apheresis machine, which removes the T cells from the blood. The machine returns the rest of the blood back into your body through a different tube, while scientists engineer the T cells in a lab by adding a manufactured CAR, then letting the cells multiply and grow. Once the lab has enough CAR T cells, the T cells are injected back into your arm (Penn Medicine, n.d.). The CAR-T therapy has shown remarkable success in treating certain types of leukemia and lymphoma, proving the potential of a new method of cancer treatment.

In all, cancer immunotherapy has evolved from early observations to cutting-edge treatments, marked by decades of relentless research and innovation. This progress exemplifies the importance and effectiveness of targeted cancer treatments.



(NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, 2011)

(Ipilimumab Injection: MedlinePlus Drug Information, n.d.)

(Penn Medicine, n.d.)

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