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Could Immunotherapy Effectively Treat Diseases Other Than Cancer

Feb 18, 2020 10:02:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Search_AdobeStock_102509484-1Traditionally used to treat cancer, new research shows how immunotherapy could also be useful for treating other diseases as well.

The goal of immunotherapy is to modify or influence the immune system in such a way to enhance its disease-fighting ability. Immunotherapies have been extensively studied and developed for the treatment of various forms of cancer. One type of immunotherapy used to target cancer cells is chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) cell therapy.  In CAR-T therapy, a patient’s T cells are harvested, genetically engineered to target cancer cells, and grown under laboratory conditions. These cells are then injected back into the patient. There are a number of research endeavors that are now investigating the effectiveness of CAR-T cells for non-cancer diseases, including autoimmune conditions.

Patients with lupus may receive benefits from the application of immunotherapy. B cells are considered to play a role in lupus by creating antibodies that attack one’s own cells causing debilitating inflammation and damage of various organs. Scientists at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center developed an immunotherapy approach that involves B cell depletion in a lupus mouse model. They designed CAR-T cells that recognize the CD19 antigen that exists on most B cells. Mice treated with these CAR-T cells showed lower disease progression, reduction of clinical signs, and longer lifespans when compared to mice receiving standard treatment; the treatment also remained effective for a year.

A dermatology research team headed at Penn Medicine is studying the use of CAR-T cells for the treatment of pemphigus, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatal skin and mucous surface blistering. A subtype of pemphigus is a result of an immune system antibody attack of cadherin-like proteins needed for epithelial cell adhesion.  The researchers developed CAR-T cells that target the immune cells producing the destructive antibodies in animal models.

Treatment of inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may also be approached with immunotherapy. Studies are ongoing that investigate the targeting of pro-inflammatory processes, including interleukin pathways and kinase inhibitors. The challenge of immunotherapy research is to develop treatments that effectively modify immune function to combat disease conditions without introducing intolerable side effects. Antigen-specific immunotherapies may represent a promising approach for the treatment of not only cancer but autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Further research is still needed to discover the possibilities of immunotherapy for diseases, and that begins with high-quality samples like the ones provided through HemaCare.

Reference: Weintraub, K. (2019). Could Immunotherapy Treat Diseases Besides Cancer?Scientific American. Retrieved 15 November 2019, from

Topics: CAR-T, Immunotherapy (Immunology)

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