UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 4

IMMUNOTHERAPY Using the Human Body as a Weapon Against Cancer The immune system is the human body’s first defense against disease. Which leads to a natural question among cancer researchers: How do we harness the power of the immune system to effectively treat cancer? By JOSH TILL Researchers at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center are attempting to answer this question through groundbreaking and innovative studies in one of the most promising areas of cancer research today – immunotherapy. Immune System 101 To understand immunotherapy, one must first understand the basics of the immune system. The immune system is comprised of multiple cell types that work together to protect an organism against disease. When functioning properly, the immune system detects and identifies a wide variety of disease-causing agents known as pathogens, distinguishing them from the body’s normal cells and then destroying them. In general terms, the immune system has two layers of defense. The first is the innate immune system, which is found in all plants and animals. When a pathogen enters the body, the innate immune system provides an immediate response to the foreign agent, but in a non-specific way. Thus, this system does not provide the body with immunological memory – meaning that there is no long-lasting immunity against that pathogen. 2 U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R