Turning Our Bodies Against Cancer: Immunotherapy
Recently, a novel cancer treatment method has made great strides in efficiency: immunotherapy. Basically, immunotherapy studies how our immune system naturally deals with and fights cancer.
In this treatment, T-cells are enabled to identify and kill cancer cells posing as normal cells. Typically, cancer cells are coated with receptors known as PD-1, PD standing for "Programmed Death." These receptors initiate cell apoptosis, or cell suicide, in T-cells. Usually utilized to restrain the immune system from attacking the body, like in autoimmune diseases, PD-1 receptors are abused by cancer cells to not only escape detection by the immune system, but also to make the body less able to fight off other infectious agents.
The treatment drug, known as nivolumab, acts as a PD-1 inhibitor, disabling PD-1 receptors and their effect on T-cells. This allows the immune system to fight off cancer much more effectively, as it can both identify and kill cancer cells once treated.
Unfortunately, the treatment has not been tested enough to be widely available, but it awaits further experimentation.