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Immunotherapy: cell therapy as a strategy for cancer treatment

Learn about the strategy that has revolutionized research in the oncology field.

Designed by Giovanna Vizzaccaro

Cancer stands out as one of the biggest public health problems due to the growing incidence of cases and mortality in the world. The most recent global research carried out in 2018 by the World Health Organization, indicates that there were about 9.6 million cancer-related deaths, representing an increase in the number of cases compared to previous years. Studies have shown that, globally, one in six deaths is related to this disease, and approximately 70% of cancer deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, due to late diagnosis and accessibility to treatments. In this scenario, research conducted by the National Cancer Institute (INCA), indicates that Brazil must register approximately 625,000 new cases of cancer for each triennium 2020-2022, representing the extent of the problem in the country.

As a result, the immediate need for new approaches to cancer treatment has increased in recent years. Several therapies for this disease are used, studied and improved, aiming at the control and elimination of tumor cells. Among the modalities studied, immunotherapy has stood out. But what is Immunotherapy? – Immunotherapy is a treatment modality focused at stimulating the immune system. This therapy proposes to help the body itself to recognize and eliminate tumor cells. As it is a treatment that stimulates the body itself, it does not have unwanted side effects, providing a better quality of life for patients.

Immunotherapy has great potential to be the most specific treatment against tumors, because its functionality is based on the immune system. Unlike conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, immunotherapy only affects tumor cells and does not induce a side effect on healthy cells. Among the types of immunotherapy, cell therapy has been a promising approach for the treatment of different types of cancer. So how does it work? - Under natural conditions, cancer is able to "escape" from the immune system, preventing its action. Thereby, cell therapy consists of using the patient's own cells, which are collected and taken to the laboratory, where they are then “taught” to recognize the cancer target, before returning to the patient.

Currently, ImunoTera has been conducting a proof-of-concept research using dendritic cell-based cell therapy as a strategy. This type of immune system cell is in a constant state of alert in the body and is able to identify proteins that are not natural to the body, such as the target proteins of cancer. The research in partnership with the Hospital das Clínicas (USP), consists of collecting blood from patients with high-grade precancerous lesions, called grade 2 and 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasms, induced by HPV. Dendritic cells are obtained from the patient's blood samples and stimulated in vitro through a technology developed by the company. After this step, dendritic cells learn to recognize the cancer target and are returned to the patient. It is expected that, in the body, the cells taught with this technology will be able to activate other cells in the defense system, such as T cells, which are able to recognize and eliminate pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. (learn more about the technology)


1. Instituto Nacional do Câncer. Estimativa Incidência de Câncer no Brasil. Vol. 1, Inca. 2020. 124 p.

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