Immunotherapy, using our own immune systems to fight diseases, has gained interest in the scientific field – and for good reason.


Viruses are well known to infect living cells and replicate to yield viral progeny which continues the pattern of infection. Viruses are surprisingly clever and strategic as they have figured out how to navigate the cell cycle, avoiding the induction of apoptosis (the natural and controlled death of cells) as well as the immune surveillance of the host. The approach of viruses in creating a chronic infectious state is in many ways similar to that of the carcinogenic process, which to a large extent, substantiates the association of viruses with the development of numerous cancer types. On a global scale of all human cancers, 10-15% speak to the amount virus-associated malignant tumors are responsible for, with 7 key viruses being noted.

The study, ‘Harnessing the Immune System as a Therapeutic Tool in Virus-Associated Cancers’ highlighted that out of all individuals who are infected with these viruses, only a few individuals actually develop a malignant tumor; this emphasizes the significance of the host and environmental factors in cancer development. The study also reviews in depth the mechanism of viral carcinogenesis while looking at viral evasion of the host. It also explores using the immune system as a therapeutic tool.

Immunotherapy can be defined as the treatment of a particular disease or condition by stimulating the immune response to aid in fighting. The study was built on a literature review to understand immune evasion mechanisms of the viral infections, so the knowledge could be utilized in the improvement of immunotherapy as a virus-associated cancer treatment method. Additional therapy methods such as tumor vaccines, adoptive cell therapy, immune checkpoint inhibitors and more were also evaluated.

There is no denying that immunotherapy has significant potential in treating virus-associated cancers, but a much more elaborate understanding is required for the topic of immune evasion in tumors and infections, to strengthen the treatment method. The major benefit of this form of treatment is deeply embedded in increased survival rates in the affected group.

In conclusion, it is a successful strategy to enhance the immune system so it can easily attach cancer, while at the same time, revert the mechanisms responsible for immune evasion. Owning to its impactful central role in immune invasion coupled with its etiology, using immunotherapy as a treatment option is already changing treatment paradigms. Although largely beneficial, in some patients immunotherapy has no effect, and as a result, more research is required in the broader field of cancer immunotherapy.


Written By: Tarique Plummer, BSc Hons Biochemistry & Biotechnology

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