Normally, the immune system protects the body from diseases by recognizing foreign attackers and combatting them. But sometimes, the immune system doesn’t function properly, allowing conditions to worsen, and sometimes the immune system malfunctions and attack a person’s own body.
In these cases, immunotherapy can help harness the power of your own immune system, acting as the armor, support and weapons it needs to fight invading diseases or to shut down improper ‘self’ attacks.
From fighting cancer to chronic diseases and even allergies, immunotherapy offers many ways to positively impact patients’ lives. Put simply, immunotherapy gives immune cells the reinforcements they need to do their job.
Immunotherapy is considered the next frontier for precision medicine, and has received national press attention — most notably in The New York Times articles below.
- Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer
- Immunotherapy Offers Hope to a Cancer Patient, but no Certainty
- Setting the Body’s ‘Serial Killers’ Loose on Cancer
Baylor Scott & White Research Institute is carrying out collaborative research projects with new immunotherapy approaches research to determine the effectiveness of these potential treatments.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
Immunotherapy works in many different ways for many different types of diseases. In most cases, immunotherapy targets something that is unique about the disease to combat it.
Immunological treatment approaches are not only much more targeted than conventional therapies, but they may also offer longer-term protection, fewer side effects and treatment opportunities for many different types of cancer and other diseases.
Here are a few scenarios being tested:
Immune Cell Stimulation and Suppression
This approach can be used to activate the immune system by injecting special molecules that cause immune cells specific to an infection or disease to multiply and attack the invading disease. In the case of allergies, immunotherapy can be used to shut down or reduce the abnormal immune response to allergens but expanding the disease-specific immune cells that would normally suppress the body’s immune reaction after it is no longer needed.
Researchers are using both therapeutic vaccines (such as those that activate immune cells with disease-fighting agents) and preventive vaccines (such as those that can prevent certain types of cancers before tumors develop).
Adoptive T-Cell Therapy
Involves taking cancer-fighting T cells from a patient’s body, activating and multiplying them outside the body, multiplying them and then putting them back into the patient.
Biological checkpoints “tap the brakes” on immune responses after they are no longer needed. Sometimes, diseases such as cancers can affect these checkpoints to limit the immune response and allow cancers to progress. Checkpoint inhibitors reduce a disease’s ability to do so.
Take a look at the following immunotherapy infographic by Baylor Scott & White Health for everything you need to know about the next frontier in treating disease.
About the author
Gerard Zurawski, PhD, is co-director of the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, director of the Center for Biotechnology, and principal investigator for research studies developing vaccines for cancer and HIV.