Did you know that new approaches to fighting cancer just use the patient’s own immune system?!                                                                                                                                      In recent years, researching and manipulating the immune system has quickly allowed for new tested and approved treatments that are becoming increasingly popular. This treatment is called Immunotherapy.

Although the immune system can fight cancer on its own, cancer cells can bypass the immune system and spread. Immunotherapy allows the immune system to have a stronger attack on the cancer cells in various ways. One type of immunotherapy treatment is Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors. Unlike other treatments, checkpoint inhibitors work with the immune system to target cancer cells rather than attack them directly. The immune system can distinguish between normal cells and foreign cells (cancer cells) while protecting the normal cells from being attacked. However, as previously stated, cancer cells can exploit the checkpoint proteins on immune cells (T cells) to evade the body’s immune response. In this process, there are two very important proteins involved: PD-1 and PD-L1. PD-1 is a checkpoint protein on the surface of T cells that functions as a regulator, helping to control and restrain the T cells (from attacking healthy cells in the body) when bound to PD-L1, a protein on both normal and cancer cells. So basically, the PD-1 checkpoints act
like a traffic light: green means go, and red means stop! Diagram showing cancer cells spreading into the blood stream CRUK 448

The most common immune checkpoint inhibitor is Pembrolizumab, more commonly recognized by KeytrudaPembrolizumab targets and blocks the PD-1 protein, which triggers the T-cells to find and kill cancer cells. This drug is received intravenously (IV) and is used for multiple cancers, sometimes independently, but it can also be combined with other types of treatment. Pembrolizumab is approved to treat breast cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer, liver cancer, and cervical cancer, among many other types.


In our AP Biology class, we discussed what causes cells to become cancerous, how those are then different from healthy cells, and how they metastasize. From learning how cancers develop, I wanted to do more research and found it very interesting how this complex matter is treated. Learning that there are various approaches to treating cancer leaves me wanting to research more. I find it so cool how this newer treatment, Keytruda, supports the body’s immune system because it proves how smart our bodies are, and since immune checkpoint inhibitors continue to be tested and approved, is very encouraging and hopeful as it is an example of science advancing.

What do you think about immune checkpoint inhibitors? Would you expect this kind of treatment to be more or less efficient than treatments you may be familiar with already?

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