Investigating immunotherapy

New therapies are looking to use the immune system directly

Immunotherapy is a treatment approach intended to ramp up the body’s natural immune response in order to fight off disease. For example, a drug called ipilimumab effectively puts T cells into permanent destruction mode and is used to treat advanced skin cancer. The downside of this approach is that the immune system is very powerful, so although the T cells may kill the cancer cells, they can also attack healthy cells. These side-effects can themselves be fatal.

Immunotherapy is also used in allergic diseases to try to reduce allergy symptoms by gradually increasing the immune system’s tolerance of an allergen. Patients receive tiny amounts of the offending antigens under the tongue or by injection, and the amount given is gradually increased. Benefits of immunotherapy have been shown for hay fever, rhinitis (inflammation of the inside of the nose), and allergies to insect bites or peanuts.

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About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Immune System’ in January 2015.

Medicine, Immunology
Immune System
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development