Immunotherapy: Personalised medicine against tumours
The immune system is our body's natural health defence system. It’s main function to distinguish between self and foreign bodies, between harmless and dangerous, i.e. to ensure the integrity of body tissue (tissue homeostasis). The immune system can eliminate unknown substances, disease-causing agents and damaged cells.
Cell mutations are constantly occurring in our body tissue. Usually the immune system recognises and eliminates abnormal and dangerous cells. Before a cell becomes malignant it forms many mutations. As a rule in such a case, an immunological response to the tumour takes place. The immune system attacks and fights against the malignant cell. It is therefore surprising that cancers still occur so frequently.
Obviously, the control mechanisms of the immune system are subject to failure in that it can no longer perform its defensive functions. When tumour cells have survived in the body for some time and developed into a tumour, they influence the immune system. Through various biological ‘camouflage mechanisms’ they inhibit the immune cells aggressiveness and can make themselves ‘invisible’. The organism starts to accept the tumour as the body's own cells although they harm the organism.
This immunologic phenomenon is referred to as tolerance. This tolerance can be breached through specific immunologic treatment. But if one's own immune system takes on the initiative, it needs the corresponding information from the cancer cells in order to overcome the tolerance. Meanwhile we can apply knowledge of the biological principles of immunology.