Attacking Cancer

Written by Shreyan Mitra

Cancer is an elusive disease, starting within one’s body and then slowly growing until the body cannot keep it under control. Over the years, we have identified many patterns in cancer cells that we may use to eliminate them, but some factors obstruct a certain path of treatment. Two aspects of cancer cells that made it difficult for the body to exterminate them without external intervention are their ability to “trick” and overwhelm immune cells.

On the biological deception side, we use four terms to refer to reason the immune system does not deal with cancer effectively. “Ignorance” is defined as the immune cells’ lack of “knowledge” that the tumor is a tumor; the tumor can achieve immune ignorance through a variety of methods. Next is “deletion”, in which the tumor sends out signals for the immune cells to undergo apoptosis. “Anergy” is defined as an incomplete activation of the immune system, be it due to an allergy or antigen, which causes an inadequate immune response to the tumor. Lastly, “suppression” is simply a weakening of the immune system, with similar effects to anergy.

Immunoediting is the term we use to describe the relationship between immune and cancer cells, the “overwhelming” process. This relationship has three phases. The first, “elimination”, describes an entire removal of the tumor by immune cells. The second stage, “equilibrium”, is when the cancer returns (due to its internal origin), and the population of tumor cells is kept constant. The final stage is “escape”, where the tumor outnumbers the immune system’s capacity and grows uncontrollably.

Despite these challenges, many scientists and researchers have been investigating a technique called immunotherapy, which is developing and “training” the immune system to effectively recognize and eliminate the tumor cells. To know more about this technique and current research, we hosted a seminar featuring:

Dr. Tonya J. Webb, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Dr. Steve Lu, MD/Ph.D., Student at Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics, The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Dr. Annie Wu, MD/Ph.D. Student at Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Check out the recording to find out more!