Cancer and the immune system – illustrated! (Part 3: T cell transfer therapies)

In Part 1 and Part 2, we overviewed the natural immune response to cancer, monoclonal antibody therapies, and cancer treatment vaccines. This time we’re talking about taking out a patient’s own anti-tumor cells, equipping them for a good fight, and putting them back in! We call these T cell transfer therapies.

One historical approach has been to isolate a patient’s own anti-tumor T cells that have infiltrated a tumor, culture them in a petri dish to re-awaken them and pump them up (since cancer cells tend to suppress healthy T cells that are trying to fight them).

A more recent approach has been to take out a patient’s T cells (irrespective of whether they specifically recognize the cancer cells), and to genetically engineer them to recognize cancer cells. These cells are then put back into the patient, and they are now programmed to get all fired up when they see their target. How does this work?

Introducing, the “CAR” T cell (“chimeric antigen receptor”):


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Cancer and the immune system – illustrated! (Part 2: Vaccine therapies)

In Part 1 of Cancer and the Immune System – Illustrated, we had a look at how the immune system naturally responds to cancer, and how crafty cancer cells evolve to hide from the immune system. We also went into how researchers have harnessed the power of synthetic antibodies in the fight against cancer.

We’ll continue learning more about how researchers are unlocking the power of the immune system to fight cancer, this time focusing on vaccine therapy and cell transfer mechanisms.

When you hear the term “vaccine,” you probably think about your annual flu shot, or kids getting vaccines to pre-educate their immune cells and prevent later infection. These are “preventative vaccines.” In this post we’re going to talk about “treatment vaccines,” which are designed to treat already-established disease. Continue reading

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Cancer and the immune system – illustrated! (Part 1: Antibody Therapies)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so to promote awareness and education, I have illustrated some of the ways in which our immune systems interact with cancer! If you enjoy this post, please consider supporting my Kickstarter campaign to publish and distribute my illustrated immunology book. I promise you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll have tremendous fun playing with immune cell playing cards. :)

Cells are your body’s tiny building blocks that make you who you are.

Cancer cells are your own body’s cells that have become mutated. The DNA (genetic code) of these cells has changed and the the translators inside the cell are now translating the new code into messengers (“proteins”) that are sending haywire signals! Every messenger, whether it’s normal or haywire, is shown off by your cells for your immune system to come by and scan, to see whether that cell is normal, cancerous, infected with a virus, etc. So, guess what? Just like when someone gets a cold, if someone gets cancer, their immune system also sees that there is something wrong! How does this work? Enter: the T cell.

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