The job of our immune system is to act as a sentinel and to intercept any invading pathogens or abnormal cells within the body, including cancer cells. The immune system has evolved numerous mechanisms to recognize such threats all the while limiting the risk of autoimmunity or attack on normal cells and tissues.
But what happens when the immune system doesn’t recognize cells that can be dangerous to animal health, such as many cancers? Those cells bypass the body’s natural defense system, proliferate destructively, and eventually challenge the body’s ability to function. In many cancers, malignant progression is accompanied by profound immune suppression that interferes with an effective antitumor response and tumor elimination.
Over the past decades, physicians and researchers in both human and veterinary medicine have partnered to develop ways to reverse this immunosuppression or otherwise make the immune system recognize and attack cells that previously passed undetected. These types of treatment – immunotherapy and immuno-oncology – offer novel and exciting approaches to treating certain types of cancer.
Immunotherapy treatments can:
- Boost the body’s immune system in a general way, thereby encouraging a more aggressive environment towards fighting cancer cells.
- Train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically through the use of tumor vaccines or immune cell bioengineering, (e.g. CAR T-cell therapies).
- Block the immunosuppressive properties of tumors and the associated tumor microenvironment allowing for the immune system to function properly and mount an anti-tumor response.