Nobel Prize Winning Research Benefitting Patients Locally
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018 was recently awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work in researching immunotherapy. Immunotherapy in cancer treatment harnesses the body's infection-fighting system (immune system) to fight some cancers. It is available for many cancer patients, including patients at the TriHealth Cancer Institute, where physicians have treated patients dating back to the clinical trial phase five years ago.
“Our goal is to provide the best, most advanced care possible for our patients,” said James Maher, MD, PhD, Physician Executive, TriHealth Cancer Institute.
How Immunotherapy Works
Immunotherapy in cancer care unleashes the body’s immune system by targeting those checkpoints that have prevented the immune system from fighting cancer. Your body can then:
- Stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
- Prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body
- Boost the immune system's ability to get rid of cancer cells
“Immunotherapy has revolutionized how we treat cancer since it was initially approved for patients with melanoma,” said Dr. Maher. “It has been shown to be effective in many different cancers including kidney cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer and Hodgkin’s disease. There are ongoing clinical trials that are changing the outcome for patients with cancer.”
Traditionally, doctors have treated cancers with chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy and newer targeted agents. Immunotherapy adds yet another tool to this cancer treatment arsenal.
The Benefits of Immunotherapy in Treating Cancer
“The immune system is never turned off, but sometimes it’s held in check by the cancer,” Dr. Maher explains. “With immunotherapy, researchers determined how cancer suppresses the immune system. The researchers were able to release the immune system by targeting the mechanisms that inhibit it. When good cells aren’t held down, they are able to go out and fight the cancer.”
While some treatments provide a response that lasts for a short period before going away, the use of immunotherapy has allowed for a longer-term response to treatment in many patients. “We have responses that are prolonged in some patients that had very advanced disease everywhere. There are people with melanoma and lung cancer now walking around without signs of cancer due to immunotherapy treatment,” said Dr. Maher.
“Just a few years ago, I was giving chemotherapy to patients about 75 percent of the time, it has probably flipped the other way and now I use immunotherapy about 75 percent of the time,” added Dr. Maher.
While Dr. Maher says while immunotherapy can work well, it isn’t for everyone. He says patients who have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or ulcerative colitis shouldn’t get this treatment. The side effects all revolve around hyper-stimulation of the immune system which can attack your own cells. “It will attack the cancer, but it could get over stimulated and start attacking you,” said Dr. Maher. “It’s best to work with an oncologist to devise a plan of care that is best for you.”
Last Updated: October 18, 2018