As a medical researcher involved in cancer immunotherapy research, I have seen the continual change taking place in the approach taken to treat cancer. Whilst chemotherapy and radiotherapy are still seen as the main treatments for early phase cancer or after surgery, the advent of immunotherapy as a viable alternative has seen the drastic increase in both researchers and resources being channeled into this area.
Why does immunotherapy work better? Diseases or disorders involving the dysfunction of the immune system (such as asthma) has its direct cause, usually due to the lack of regulation or the over-vigorous regulation of a particular immune function. Instead of trying to block or bypass these problems by drug or chemcial treatment, immunotherapy aims to correct the source of error, by recalibrating the imbalance in the immune system and restoring the natural order of activity within the body.
The catch to immunotherapy is that we are dealing with a complex system that also interacts with other vital systems of the body. Even though immune disorders usually have a direct cause, the treatment used generally only targets one particular aspect of the cause. This is due to the standards set by the FDA, which demands that clinical trials for treatment adhere to strict protocols and regulations. Therefore, clinical trials only allow a very basic therapeutic model to be tested, usually first in animals, then in gradually scaled-up versions of human trials.
The fact that cancer immunotherapy has failed to yield the spectacular results anticipated in cancer treatment is not an indication that the treatment has no potential, merely that the research and testing of therapies need to take on a more realistic approach.
It doesn’t make sense to try and hit the body with chemicals to treat a biological malfunction. Even cancer patients regularly suffer relapse from chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments because the treatment doesn’t cure the disorder by correcting the problem. A chemotherapy treatment is similar to using a napalm to clear out enemy troops in a rain forest. What it destroys is not only the cause of disease, but also the original system that is necessary to maintain the healthy state of the body.
Immunotherapy is about using the body’s own defense system to correct its problems, the way our bodies were originally designed to function. It makes sense to most people, but its also up to the medical and research bodies to make sense of it in therapies.