Posted by: Sophie Khatib13 DEC 2012
After revising my lectures, in which we covered the immune system, I started to think....
If our immune system has the ability to recognise cancer cells, due to them displaying a signal that they have been transformed, could we use them to help treat certain cancers?
The traditional anticancer agents have the well recognised side effect of immunosuppression due to their cytotoxic action on rapidly dividing cells, but surely this just suppresses the body’s own defences against cancer and puts us as a disadvantage, especially if the anticancer agent is not active against the specific cancer type and personalised for that patient.
It is thought that cancer may actually be allowed to develop by the body because the T cells of the immune system become unresponsive towards the newly developing cancer cells and so if they develop, they are left unchecked and allowed to proliferate.
If certain components of the immune system are stimulated too much, other adverse effects may be observed. This may include increased levels of histamine, resulting in increased permeability of blood vessels and causing problematic oedema as well as multiple other problems.
It’s possible that T-cells can be modified so that they have a heightened response to cancer cells, thus initiating the immune cascade. It’s not only highly specific to cancer cells but also less, if any, side effects are observed. This is mainly due to the specificity of the treatment but also because we are using, in essence, genetically modified T-cells which have come from the host and therefore are a more natural treatment compared with exogenous chemicals.
Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood and because there is no solid tumour, it may be one of the most responsive tumours due to the ease of targeting with immune cells, or modification of the existing immune cells.
This is a really interesting and exciting step forward in developing treatments for various conditions and is a huge opportunity for pharmacists to get involved with. With the job market being as it is, why not expand your minds and move towards clinical research? A lot of these kinds of studies would benefit from a pharmacists perspective and I can see it being a really interesting and exciting career, should I ever be lucky enough to get into it.
How many of you does it appeal to? I genuinely think it would be a hugely rewarding career to be part of. Go on, give it a go!