UNDERSTANDING THE “SCIENCE” BEHIND CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY
Before we start with immunotherapy, one should have a clear understanding about the term immunology. The term immunology is the branch of medicine and biology concerned with immunity in all-living organisms. The immunology comprises of immune system that is well equipped with the ability to differentiate between self and foreign pathogen and fight/ eliminate pathogens that have an impact on our health and development.
The immune system has constantly updated its defence mechanisms to fight pathogens. It includes our physical and cell based carrier to stop foreign pathogen from manipulating our system. In an event of immune failure, the scientist has devised immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is the cure of disease by activating or suppressing the immune system or may say modifying immune system and its components. These modifications involves the use of biomedical approach where the cells of our body are personally trained or equipped with biomedical boosters to elicit a memory response.
In certain events, few our cells tend to behave abnormal. They disguise themselves to exhibit uncontrolled cell proliferation and release growth factors that induce a negative impact on our body. These cells are usually identified and relieved off their activity from our system efficiently. Ability to camouflage allows these cells to grow into and body and metastasise leading to cancer. Since these cells do impart few of our self-antigens, the body is not able to mount an efficient response against them. Due to low mitochondrial count, high DNA mutation and proliferation rate, cancer cells impair our body metabolism and energy uptake. In such cases, patient are often advised to consult for immunotherapy that could engineer these cells to specifically target these cells that tend to reside in camouflaged state.
The first immunotherapy involved the use of attenuated cell culture or dead corpuscles to develop and boost memory response against bacterial and viral pathogens. The use of monoclonal antibodies to target autoimmune diseases, bacteria’s, viruses and cancer cells are widely employed by clinicians. Furthermore, the use of immune-modulators such as Interleukin-2 administration to boost T cell memory response against cancer was widely used in 1970s.
In the last 15 years various scientific approaches have surfaced to cure patients diagnosed with serious ailments. Chimeric (CAR) T cell therapy involves extraction of patients T cells. These cells are genetically engineered to kill cancer cells. Once engineered, these cells are multiplied and then injected into the patient’s body. Once into the patients system, these cells can multiply to induce a greater effective response. A great success with CAR-T (Kymriah & yescarta) cell therapy has been witnessed in patients suffering from myeloma, lymphoma and leukemia.
The other technique involves the use of set of antigen presenting cells called dendritic cells (Sipulcel-T) that present antigenic epitopes to T cell to induce a memory response. Like T cells, dendritic cells are isolated from patient’s blood as monocytes. These cells are matured into dendritic cells following exposure to growth factors and patient tumor genetic and protein framework. Once matured and activated, these cells are injected back to into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that DCs are quite efficient in treating patients with solid tumors.
Increasing incidence of cancer in India has escalated the demand for better healthcare service. Due to lack of awareness about immunotherapy, people are often swayed to solely consume non-scientific and non-biomedical remedies. Herbal medicines, Ayurveda, diet plans, vitamins and supplements are often mistaken to cure cancer. Clinical data from Cancer research UK suggests that these agents as a natural way to help you relax and cope with anxiety and depression or hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual (period) problems and eczema but there is no scientific valid evidence from human trials that herbal medicine can treat or cure cancer. Thus they are not labeled as immunotherapy by global medical institutions. These are non-immunological factors that might shape or mold immune system downstream but fail terribly to cure cancer. Thus clinicians often recommend a change in diet and lifestyle along with immunotherapy to ensure a better treatment outcome to patients. Although science is constantly evolving itself for the betterment of the human race, its failure to be efficiently utilised by Indian public could be traced to poor guidance and knowledge along with misleading campaigns that are smartly performed for making gains. Novel therapies are initially criticised in India but are soon accepted until a Global awareness is established in terms of medical tourism. Non-immunological remedies cannot cure serious ailments but smartly engulf our money, hope and time which is limited and vital in such cases.