Immunotherapy: A New Age of cancer Research
By: Jagadeepram Maddipatla
Vaccines have long been viewed as the harbingers for immunity, eradication, and community benefit. Up until now, however, this process has been largely generalized; the same type of vaccines are used for a whole population, with changes being made only in response to the pathogen being fought. This same approach is evident throughout the healthcare industry, with the vast majority of over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs tuning themselves to pathogens, not the individual.
While this has worked on a macro level, there exist a multitude of diseases that are simply too specific for generalized vaccines. Perhaps the most notorious of these is cancer, a product of uncontrolled cell growth.
The mutations associated with uncontrolled cell growth are unique for the host, and thus cannot be pinpointed by a one-size-fits-all solution. This has not prevented the medical industry from attempting to engineer solutions, however. Therapies incorporating radiation treatments and surgeries have existed for quite some time, and are primary tools in the fight against propagated cell growth; still, they are cumbersome, cannot be effectively scaled, and may not always result in the optimal outcome.
In light of these pressing issues, researchers have made stunning advancements, many of which mitigate some of the impacts; personalized vaccinations have proven to be extremely beneficial, and have vitalized a new form of treatment known as immunotherapy. Essentially, healthcare workers draw blood samples from patients and engineer vaccines to counteract proteins and mutations that may be specific to the host. The approach mimics that taken to fight viruses, stimulating the immune system to fight by exposing it to relevant factors. Immunotherapy has largely been expected to be the intersection of targeted drug treatments and traditional vaccines- providing the outcome of patient specific medications with the feasibility of salines. Currently, however, the treatment is used as a last resort. The process of creating personalized vaccinations still has quite a bit to prove in the medical field, and optimizations are called for when observing the costs and effectiveness.
Immunotherapy has already evolved to take numerous forms, and different types of immunotherapy have the potential to treat various diseases. A targeted antibodies approach, for example, binds T-Cells to cancer cells in an attempt to train the immune system to recognize such uncontrolled cell growth. This approach is oftentimes one of the most common, and the term “immunotherapy” colloquially takes this definition.
Similarly, the cancer vaccine approach identifies antigens which are associated with the cells in question and encourage attacks by the immune system. Such vaccines are usually full of proteins, genetic material, and even cells. Adoptive cell approaches consist of fully integrating genetically modified T-Cells with the host to prevent further malicious growth. As stated by MDAnderson, these techniques are synthesized with existing general purpose approaches to induce a targeted response.
Modern day immunotherapy treatments cost upwards of $100,000, which is simply too financially taxing for a majority of households. Furthermore, the injections themselves do not prompt the immune system to respond well to various diseases, decreasing the scope to which the approach can be scaled. Treatments are often scaled to take place over the course of years, which also limits the efficiency and effectiveness of current models. During frequent visits within these intervals, patients are administered the medicine through an intravenous approach, which must be meticulously created beforehand.
However, the field is facing an immense amount of attention, with new researchers developing novel techniques to better many poor points. Conferences and clinical trials are expanding the number of diseases to which immunotherapy can be applied to; lung cancers in particular have been of major concern, and new approaches to effectively combat them are being engineered through government backed projects and private laboratories alike.
Thus, while the field of immunotherapy still requires a substantial amount of remediation, it shows extraordinary promise to counteract an age old dilemma.
Immunotherapy. MD Anderson Cancer Center. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.mdanderson.org/treatment-options/immunotherapy.html.
Immunotherapy for cancer: How it works, who's a candidate, and where to get it. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (2021, September 10). Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/01/immunotherapy-cancer.
What is immunotherapy? Cancer Research Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.