Through its research consortium (MMRC), the MMRF is funding a pipeline of the most promising therapeutic treatment options for multiple myeloma, including immunotherapies. The MMRC recently launched a clinical trial focused on an immune check point therapy, a type of immunotherapy that is receiving a lot of attention in the scientific community.
Immunotherapy is a promising new strategy to fight cancer, including multiple myeloma. We will be issuing a three-part blog series on the subject, to help you better understand what it is, how it works and why it is important.
Part I: What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a potentially groundbreaking cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, in the same way the body would fight any other invader. In recent years, there has been a great deal of investigation and progress in immunotherapy as researchers explore its effectiveness in fighting cancer.
To understand how immunotherapy works, you’ll need to know how the immune system protects your body against disease.
The immune system detects invaders – such as viruses – and is able to distinguish them from healthy cells. Being able to tell the difference from invaders and healthy cells is important, as your body should only attack invaders.
The immune system consists of a network of cells, tissues and organs, including:
• T-Cells: white blood cells that search for and destroy targeted invaders
• B-Cells: white blood cells that mature into plasma cells that produce antibodies to fight infection or memory B-cells that can recognize invaders
• Red Blood Cells: blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body
• Lymphatic System: a network of tissues and channels throughout the body that enables a colorless liquid called lymph, which contains a high number of immune cells, to travel through the body
• Organs: the skin, thymus gland and spleen are all important organs for defending the body against invaders
• Bone Marrow: a spongy substance inside the bone that acts as a factory to produce different kinds of cells, including white blood cells
The immune system typically does a great job identifying abnormal cells and foreign invaders, including parasites, viruses, fungus and bacteria. However, because cancer cells come from our own cells, it can be harder for the immune system to distinguish them from healthy cells.
Researchers have found that the immune system is impaired or changed in patients with multiple myeloma. Specifically, there is an increase of T-cells in both the bone marrow and circulating blood, and a decrease of B-cells.
With immunotherapy, researchers hope to identify drugs that work with a person’s immune system to help recognize and attack the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Immunotherapies are a promising new strategy to fight multiple myeloma and researchers are investigating a variety of drugs and agents including: immune check point therapies, vaccines, cytokines, adopt T-cell transplant and antibodies. We will explore these drugs and agents in more detail in upcoming posts.
Side effects of immunotherapies are still being studied, but they are generally different than those caused by chemotherapy and radiation. In many cases, immunotherapy side effects are not severe, or may be short-lived, and well tolerated. The most common side effects include: flu-like symptoms, fever, rashes, fatigue and dizziness or drops in blood pressure. However, in some instances, side effects could be severe and life threatening. It is important to talk to your doctor about side effects before starting treatment with an immunotherapy.
In the next post, we will explore immunotherapy in greater detail and discuss how it may help boost immune response.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please call 1-866-603-6628 or email [email protected].