Science Sunday #2 is a throwback to an older article, originally published August 18, 2013, on BBC News: Immune System Boost ‘Fights Cancer’ Even though it’s old, I chose this article because I think it brings up some neat points about cancer immunotherapy and harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, as well as the relationship between immunotherapy and autoimmunity. (Immunotherapy is my main research interest, so I may be biased towards articles like this- but I do love seeing immunotherapy in the news!) In broader terms, I think this article gives a fair perspective on the importance of basic research in getting treatments such as those described in the article to patients, because there are many unknown risks that are possible when giving any new type of treatment to humans.
“We needed to find a way to reduce Treg function in a way that permits antitumor activity without allowing autoimmune reactions.” Now that you’ve learned about the Important Concepts in this week’s article, you may have realized that releasing the brakes on the immune system can have effects on how the immune system deals with the entire body, not just with the cancer. Because of the potentially harmful autoimmune effects of autoimmune diseases (“[t]here are many diseases caused by the immune system turning on the body’s own tissues – such as type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis”), these treatments that reduce Treg function must first be thoroughly tested in animals and then in vivo (using isolated human cells in a laboratory setting) so that if the treatment is dangerous it will not move ahead into clinical trials, or if it does, so that scientists and clinicians have an idea of what to look out for in patients being treated. This article highlights the importance of not rushing to get novel treatment ideas to patients.