Immunotherapy

05 May 2014, Cancer, Immune system, Vaccines

Developing ways to harness our immune system for optimal health and prevention of disease.

Dendritic cells are rare immune cells that guide the development and direction of an immune response

The field of immunotherapy – using the immune system to treat disease – was born over a hundred years ago. Its origins lie in the early observations of Dr William Coley that his patients’ tumours would shrink occasionally if they were infected with a mixture of bacteria (called Coley’s Toxins) to stimulate an immune response. This led to the idea that the body’s immune system does so much more than simply fighting viruses and bacteria.

Encouraged by the success of Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, doctors went on to make ‘cancer vaccines’ by injecting patients with crude extracts of tumours from other cancer patients. While these treatments were largely ineffective at the time, with a growing understanding of the immune system in recent decades, the huge potential of immunotherapy is now starting to be realised. The Malaghan Institute is proud to be a part of this movement with our own Phase 1 clinical trial of a therapeutic vaccine for melanoma now underway.

Immunotherapy is not just for cancer - it can be applied to any disease caused by an improperly functioning immune system, including asthma, allergy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Our researchers are using their extensive knowledge of the immune system to develop targeted immunotherapies such as vaccines that rehabilitate the immune system for the treatment of these diseases.

We are also exploring a new initiative in immunotherapy that uses nutrition to improve the functioning of the immune system, which you can read about in this issue of Scope.

This is an incredibly exciting time for the Malaghan Institute. We hope you are as proud as we are of the progress we are making into unravelling the intricacies of our immune system, and applying this knowledge to the treatment of disease.

 

This article features in the May 2014 issue of our Scope newsletter (Issue 53).  Download the full newsletter here - 506 KB (PDF)