The human immune system is a biological defense system that protects against disease. A Immunotherapy can help to stimulate a weakened immune system or to suppress an excessive immune system.
Immunotherapy is used when the human immune system fails. The immune system is then no longer able to detect and remove a large number of harmful pathogens (e.g. viruses) or substances.
A Immunotherapy is used when the human immune system fails. This can mean that it is no longer able to detect and remove a large number of harmful pathogens or substances, to render the body's own defective cells harmless or to differentiate harmful foreign bodies from the body's own healthy tissue.
The term immunotherapy encompasses various treatment approaches that aim to influence a failing immune system. Depending on the disease, these therapeutic methods aim either to strengthen (activate) or weaken (suppression) the immune system.
Immunotherapy can be divided into the following procedures. The stimulating (activating) process strengthens the immune system, while the modulating process changes its response. With suppressive immunotherapy, the immune response is suppressed.
The Immunotherapy has gained more and more importance in the past decades, especially in cancer treatment, in the therapy of autoimmune diseases and in organ transplants.
The term "stimulating immunotherapy" encompasses a wide range of different methods and areas of application. These include active vaccinations with dead or living pathogens that strengthen the normal, healthy immune system and stimulate the formation of antibodies. Immunostimulants can still be given to activate a weakened immune system in the case of cancer.
More and more oncologists are placing hope in immunotherapy. In colorectal cancer, for example, active-specific immunotherapy (ASI) shows effectiveness, in which a vaccine made from tumor antigens is injected. The immune stimulants interferon and interleukin suppress cell growth, strengthen the immune response and also act on some types of tumors.
Personalized immunotherapy, including treatment with the body's own dendritic cells, is also used for cancer. The latter method aims to destroy a tumor through targeted activation of the immune system. Vaccines against cancer-causing viruses and monoclonal antibodies (immunologically active proteins) are used more and more successfully in cancer immunotherapy.
In principle, cancer immunotherapy offers a more targeted, more selective effect against cancer cells compared to traditional chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, immunotherapy alone is usually not enough to treat cancer, and additional surgery or chemotherapy is required.
Modulating (specific) immunotherapy has long included desensitization for the treatment of allergies, the effectiveness of which is particularly high in seasonal allergies such as hay fever. In this form of therapy, the overreacting immune system is accustomed to the allergenic substance by injecting or orally administering an allergen extract, which reduces the symptoms and, ideally, makes them disappear.
Suppressive immunotherapy is particularly important in organ transplants. This treatment includes therapies with glucocorticoids, cytostatics and antibodies (immunoglobulins). The aim of this treatment is to ensure that a transplanted organ is not rejected again. A long-term medication of immunosuppressants to be taken by the patient for life suppresses the defense reaction of the immune system against the implanted organ.
Other areas of application for suppressive immunotherapy are the numerous autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn's disease and rheumatism. These diseases are triggered by an excessive reaction of the immune system, which falsely fights the body's own tissue like a foreign body and thereby causes severe inflammation and organ damage. Here the immunotherapy dampens the activity of the immune system.
Depending on the type of Immunotherapy side effects and dangers of treatment vary.
In the case of allergy patients who are administered an allergen, i.e. an allergy-inducing substance, in the form of a modulating immunotherapy, there is the risk of a mostly mild allergic reaction, which in the worst case can lead to an allergic shock with sometimes fatal outcome. Therefore, desensitization must always take place under medical supervision.
A suppressive immunotherapy, often such as e.g. permanent and lifelong organ transplantation can also have serious side effects and dangers. Basically, this therapy weakens the body's immune system and makes them vulnerable to a wide variety of infections.
In the long term, the weakened immune system also increases the risk of developing cancer for those treated. However, these side effects and dangers of immunotherapy must always be seen in connection with their benefits. Immunotherapies are not a miracle cure, but in principle they offer the chance of an increased quality of life and an extension of life.