One of the most talked about forms of cancer treatment is also one of the most effective – we are discussing the use of immunotherapy...
In our last article, we discussed the history and development of mustard gas and its contributions to cancer research. While the invention of mustard gas led to massive leaps in cancer research via chemotherapy, it did have its drawbacks. In this article, we wanted to look at another type of cancer treatment – known as immunotherapy.
Simply put, immunotherapy is a treatment which teaches your immune system how to fight against any disease, but we will be dealing with its use in cancer. The treatment’s usage in a variety of diseases dates back to Ancient Greek and Egyptian times, but it was only in the late 1800s where serious progress began to be made in terms of cancer research. During this time period, German scientists W. Busch and Friedrich Fehleisen had noticed that patients with sarcomas had reduced tumors after having a bacterial infection of a wound known as Erysipelas caused by streptococcus. They tried to replicate this tumor reduction on their own using bacteria but had no success. William Coley, who is regarded as the Father of immunotherapy, also noticed this in patients with cancer(sarcomas) who then developed an erysipelas infection had their tumor disappear. He began his experiments by injecting streptococcus into patients. Coley found success in this area, noticing reductions of a wide variety of cancers. This laid the foundation for the idea that immunotherapy can be used for cancer treatment in addition to other diseases.
The strides made by Busch, Fehleisen, and Coley have been instrumental in the development of immunotherapy, which has become one of the most promising forms of cancer therapy for one major reason – it doesn’t destroy healthy cells. While most treatments primarily focus on attacking and destroying cancer cells in a rash manner, like chemotherapy, immunotherapy teaches the immune system how to defend itself from cancer cells and how to recognize them. Immunotherapies can be applicable to a wide variety of cancer types (the list can be found here), making it one of the most effective therapies.
Because of its promising nature, immunotherapy is one of the leading therapies in the world right now. With innovations such as immunosurveillance and monoclonal antibodies (these will be discussed in upcoming articles) further contributing to our understanding of cancer, the strides made as a result of immunotherapy are numerous and the treatment could be a vital piece in the puzzle of finding a universal cure to cancer.