Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, in lab
Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert in cancer immunotherapy.

Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Your immune system protects you from infection, illness and substances that can harm your body. Immunotherapy refers to a medical treatment that turns the power of the immune system against disease. Cancer immunotherapy acts on the cells of the immune system to seek out, recognize and attack cancer.

Types of Cancer Immunotherapy

Several types of immunotherapy are approved for use to treat cancer or are being studied through clinical trials. The different kinds of immunotherapies work in different ways to treat cancer. Some boost the immune system to work against cancer, while others train the immune system to seek out and attack cancer cells.

  • CAR T-cell therapy involves the removal of T cells from a patient’s blood. These disease-fighting cells are then supercharged to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The University of Chicago Medicine was the first medical center in Illinois certified to offer CAR T-cell therapy.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block the proteins that cancer cells use to disarm an immune response, allowing T cells to attack and destroy tumor cells.
  • Monoclonal antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins, designed to attack a specific part of a cancer cell.
  • Cytokines are proteins made by your body’s cells that play a role in the body’s immune response to illness, including cancer. Interferon and interleukins are cytokines used to fight cancer.
  • Cancer vaccines involve substances put in the body to activate an immune response that helps prevent or treat cancer.

Clinical Trials

UChicago Medicine physicians lead immunotherapy clinical trials for the following types of cancer:

  • Bladder
  • Blood
    • Leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia)
    • Lymphoma
    • Multiple Myeloma
  • Breast
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Head and neck
  • Liver
  • Lung (non-small)
  • Melanoma
  • Mesothelioma
  • Ovarian
  • Solid tumors

Immunotherapy and Using the Body to Fight Cancer

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system to fight cancer. Oncologists Michael R. Bishop, MD, and Sonali Smith, MD, discuss  how it’s revolutionizing the way we treat certain blood cancers.

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