What is Immunotherapy’s Application Besides Cancer?
Immunotherapy has been a boon for cancer treatment preparing
the body’s immune system to fight against the disease. Now the tools and new
knowledge created by this strategy are beginning to be employed for everything
from combating autoimmune illnesses to impeding tissue rejection in organ
Although right now, it’s mostly limited to scientific labs,
the use of this approach outside of cancer has immense potential, researchers
say. This is due to the immune system being primarily involved in every organ
and in many health conditions.
This is what scientists call as immunorevolution beyond
Proposing Immunotherapy for Other Illnesses:
Cancer was a logical first step for immunotherapies, but the
need for life-extending therapies in cancer is indisputable. In a type of
cancer immunotherapy, immune cells called T cells are cleared from the
body and devised to target cells that are only found in cancers.
The engineered cells, called chimeric antigen receptor T
cells (CAR-Ts), have proved to be highly effective against some types of blood
cancers, particularly acute lymphocytic leukemia. Scientists are now willing to
take risks to fight tumors that might otherwise be fatal. Scientists have now
started engineering T cells to target other disease-related cells. Since the
immunotherapy work has proved to be so effective in cancer, it makes sense to
push it into other illnesses.
A team headed by Aimee Payne, a dermatologist at Penn
Medicine is currently working to carry out human trials using re-engineered T
cells to treat an autoimmune-triggered skin disease called pemphigus.
4,000 Americans every year gets affected by the subforum in
which the immune system produces antibodies against proteins that hold the skin
together, leading to painful, exhausting blisters.
Payne and her team directed engineered T cells to damage the
immune cells that make these antibodies, and their work has illustrated
promise in animals. Payne got the idea for this method from all the
attention successful CAR-Ts were receiving at Penn Medicine. The researchers
were like, why didn’t they think about this earlier.
While others had attempted to target the antibodies that
cause this skin disease earlier without success, but Payne says she is more
optimistic about the engineered T cells she is using, which she calls CAAR-T
It’s because they can make more copies of themselves, so
their effects could be long-lasting.
Combining Conventional and Modern Methods:
Interestingly, even decades-old immunotherapies are
influencing present-day work in the area. In Paris, David Klatzmann, an
immunologist at Sorbonne University, is experimenting with treating autoimmune
disorders with low levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2), an immune-signaling
molecule employed to cure cancer in the mid-1980s. At that time, high
doses of IL-2 proved useful in a small fraction of metastatic tumors mainly
kidney cancer and melanoma but caused terrible side effects.
Klatzmann’s research indicates that low doses may
be able to tackle a wide range of autoimmune conditions by bolstering levels of
a type of cell called a regulatory T cell, or Treg, which naturally triggers
the immune response. He uses immunotherapy to hold back the immune system the
exact opposite of how cancer researchers operate.
He is now applying his approach to test in phase II
clinical trials for autoimmune illnesses, including lupus, type 1 diabetes and
In another approach, Penn Medicine’s Epstein recently
engineered T cells in mice to attack cells that produce scar tissue after the
heart undergoes damage. This healing initially keeps the heart from rupturing,
but it can also weaken the organ’s ability to fill with blood and
Epstein’s approach worked well in mice, cutting down the
amount of scar tissue, and he hopes to test the method in larger animals.
At this point in time in medical, definitely this kind of
potential product that is engineered T cells is transformational. They can be
applied in so many different settings and diseases, but it’s still early to say
whether it’s going be a commercial product for patients.