Let’s first know what immunotherapy is!
It is the treatment of diseases by activating or suppressing the immune system.
Suppress?? Why do we need to suppress our own immune system?
Our own immune system may over-react to typically harmless substances in the environment called allergy or can even response abnormally to a normal body part, known as autoimmune disorders. Unless and until this is suppressed, the reactions may be uncomfortable, damaging or occasionally fatal for our body.
There are at least 80 types of autoimmune diseases and nearly any body part can be involved. It includes rheumatoid arthritis- causing swollen, warm and painful joints; psoriasis- red, itchy, dry abnormal skin patches.
Back to immunotherapy. It also boosts body’s natural defences to fight diseases.
Diseases like cancer, against which we are fighting for ages.
Cancer cells are mutated ones that don’t stop growing and taking nutrients and energy from its neighbouring cells, ultimately making the body weaker and prone to be attacked by other diseases. They are quite brave and camouflage themselves as normal body cells. As a result, the immune system fails to recognize and act on cancer cells.
However, researchers have successfully used immunotherapy to kill cancer cells. A woman has been cured of late-stage breast cancer after chemotherapy failed!
Do you know immune systems attack our old dying cells? Why so? Old cells require more energy to function and don’t work as efficiently as normal growing cells. Thus, when immune system recognizes any old cells it hurries up the process of its death.
A form of immunotherapy tricks the immune system to recognize cancer cells as old dying cells. Researchers have developed a process to inject genes (such as infection by the virus) that triggers necroptosis in the tumour cells. Necroptosis is the process of programmed cell death.
Thinking about side effects of immunotherapy?
Yes, it may have and varies with individuals reflecting symptoms like fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, rashes and weakness.
But, this has some advantages over chemotherapy as it has less side effects and is effective for longer period.
With time and technology, immunotherapy will surely revolutionize our treatment.
Written by Moumita Mazumdar