Medical Terms for Treatments Related to the Immune System

Medical Terms for Treatments Related to the Immune System
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  • 0:00 Our Body's Power
  • 0:42 Immunotherapy
  • 2:53 Immunosuppression
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
While our immune system is there to protect us, it can sometimes overstep its bounds and hurt us, or it can be too weak to help us out. That's why we turn to immunotherapy, which can help in either instance.

Our Body's Power

Our bodies are pretty powerful. We can lift hundreds of pounds, if trained well enough. We can run super fast. We can think intelligently and create some really cool things. That's all the stuff that's noticeable on the outside.

On the inside, we can fight off tiny organisms that seek to kill us (and sometimes do kill us). We can even use our own immune system to fight cancer! Did you know that? How cool is that?!

So, let's not delay this exciting lesson on the treatments and therapies that try to use our powerful immune system to our advantage or suppress it when it runs amok and hurts us.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can be simply defined as the treatment of a disease by either enhancing or suppressing the immune response. 'Immuno-' means immune or immunity, and 'therapy' means treatment.

Ok, so let's start with the first part of immunotherapy: the enhancement of our immune response. When would we want to do something like this?

One really good example is cancer immunotherapy. Cancer immunotherapy can use artificially produced immune system components, or it can stimulate the body's own immune system to simply work better at recognizing, attacking and destroying cancer cells. This would be like arming the military with some neat weapons and sending them off to fight or training the military through education so they know how best to recognize, attack and destroy the enemy.

Another kind of treatment of the immune system that is really a subset of immunotherapy is known as antibody therapy. There's more than one kind of antibody therapy.

Antibodies are proteins in your blood that are produced by white blood cells called lymphocytes. They can either directly kill infectious cells like bacteria or cancer cells, or they can act as signals for other white blood cells to come and kill those same cells.

One form of antibody therapy uses monoclonal antibodies, or cloned antibodies. More specifically, monoclonal antibodies are copies of a single (hence 'mono-') kind of antibody that is designed to bind to a very specific substance or part thereof, like a unique protein that's found only on one type of cancer cell but not another.

Synthetically produced antibodies, aka immunoglobulins, can also be used in post-exposure prophylaxis, which is used to prevent a disease from developing after a person has been exposed to the disease-causing agent. Rabies is an example of a disease that can be treated in this fashion. Other immune system molecules, like interferon, can be synthetically produced to treat everything from cancer to hepatitis.

Immunosuppression

On the opposite side of the spectrum of immunotherapy are therapies that do anything but help the immune system out. The other half of immunotherapy is known as immunosuppression, which refers to the suppression of the immune system for the purposes of preventing, treating or curing a disease. When would we want to do something like this?

Well, how about allergies? Allergies come from an immune system that overreacts to an allergen, like pollen or peanuts. So we can use allergy desensitization, aka allergy shots, to basically teach the immune system to chill out a bit when it encounters the allergen.

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