What Is Immunotherapy?

Dr. Pam Ohashi, a senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, explains what immunotherapy is. #ConquerCancer


Dr. Ohashi: The whole thing about immunotherapy is that we want to be able to use the immune system to fight cancer. And, for many, many years this was all very speculative; lots of people didn't believe that the immune system could actually control cancer growth and cure people from cancer.

But, recently in the last 3 to 5 years, there's been many breakthroughs that have happened, and we now know that the immune system really can be triggered or activated to attack tumour cells.

These T-cells that can kill cancer cells, but what they have on them are something called "receptors," and they go and they look for tumour cells, and the tumour cells don't look very different, and they have markers on the surface of the tumour cells. The T-cells, or white blood cells, actually have to be able to engage the tumour cell. They have to fit together like a lock and a key.

So when we think about immune therapy, our goal is to make more of these tumour-fighting T-cells. And so that's one of the main strategies; if you have more of these T-cells, you have a better chance to fight off the cancer and control the cancer growth. And that's what immune therapy really is: how do we get these T-cells, how do we get them activated, and how do we get them mobilized to attack the cancer.

To learn more, visit thepmcf.ca