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Immunotherapy – What Is It and How Could It Save Our Lives?
Even with all of the illnesses and diseases that face us on a regular basis, one thing remains truer today more than ever: The human body is an amazing vehicle and is able to tackle and destroy the bad cells that claim our body while leaving the more than 30 trillion healthy cells alone.
The ability of our bodies to recognize cancerous cells and destroy them has been called immunotherapy. It is a process that is being refined in order to take into account the way the body can recognize cancerous cells, especially those that return after originally being destroyed.
It seems that our bodies are smart but cancer cells are just a little bit smarter. When our bodies detect a foreign cell, our immune system kicks in and produces antibodies that will bind themselves to the antigens of the foreign cell. Sometimes the foreign cell is immediately recognized and noted to be destroyed.
The problem is that like the foreign cells, cancer cells are also able to produce antigens. The problem lies in the fact that without the antibodies binding to them they are able to evade the immune system that marks them for destruction. The result is that they are able to avoid destruction while they continue to thrive in an otherwise healthy body without any chance of being detected and destroyed.
What is being done to improve our immune system?
There are currently immunotherapy drugs that are created in a laboratory and simulate the antibodies as they bind themselves to the cancerous cells so they will be identified to be killed off.
Another issue is the fact that the cancer cells continue to have protein levels that are able to get past the immune system so they are not marked for destruction. The immunotherapy drugs are able to see through this process, see the normal proteins, and mark them for destruction. While not a cure, these antibody drugs are extremely expensive for those interested in adding this therapy to their treatment. The price tag is currently more than $100K.
What is in the works, and is much more affordable, is the development of vaccines that come in single shots that will achieve the same results. These shots would be able to teach the immune system how to find the antigens on the cancer cells so that they could inoculate patient against the specific type of cancer now, and for several years to come. The best part is that this solution is under $1,000 for each patient.
Out of a clinical trial consisting of 24 terminal cancer patients, 10 were able to battle their cancer positively so they were able to return for a 6-month booster. Another patient has made it to the 3-year mark. These trials have shown to have had very few side effects and no sign of toxicity.
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Will we be able to fight cancer in our own bodies?
With the way that testing of immunotherapy is going, researchers have paved new ground by not only increasing the survival rate of cancer patients but watching some cases where the cancer has gone into remission, or has gone away completely on its own. The success rate of these tests has reached up to 94 percent. Scientists in the US have perfected a technique where they remove immune cells, but before they return them to the body to target the cancer cells they have been modified to find them and destroy them.
Most of these studies have shown huge success on patients who have little to lose. Their chances of surviving their existing cancer are slim to none. In some cases, the patients that were part of the study were only not expected to survive for two more months. As a result of the immunotherapy they found their symptoms gone for good.
In the most recent studies, Professor Stanly Riddell, who works directly with the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, found the T-cells, or immune cells, were removed and modified to be receptive to the molecules that attract cancer and then returned to the body.
The results have been coming along with extremely positive results. While some types of cancer are responding better than others, the fact is that many more cases are at least going into remission while others are showing no further symptoms of the cancer any longer.
With our immune system able to take on and target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone has always been a plus. It was the sneaky cancer cells that were able to avoid the immune system’s wrath while being able to keep growing the disease and avoiding its own demise. Being able to point out to the immune system cancer cells that may not appear to be cancerous will only help the immune system do its job better.
There is still much to do to consider immunotherapy a complete success. It only seems to be working on specific types of cancer and the side effects that were the result of some of the procedures must be further examined. Scientists are definitely on the right track and it won’t be long before our bodies are able to fight cancer within our own bodies.