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CRI Visits Stupid Cancer to Answer “What the Hell is Immunotherapy?”

January 20, 2014 | Michelle Liew

When most people hear about the research being funded by the Cancer Research Institute, they have a lot of questions about cancer immunotherapy. What is it? Why does it matter? And how does it make a difference for cancer patients? Luckily, the Monday podcast of the nonprofit organization Stupid Cancer is breaking down immunotherapy to provide answers.

Stupid Cancer was created by Matthew Zachary, one of the two hosts of the Stupid Cancer show, to talk about cancer for people under 40. Joining the hosts are two of our own from CRI—Brian Brewer, the director of marketing and communications at CRI, and Alexis Feldman, the chair of CRI’s Young Philanthropists Council. Brian and Alexis will talk about the answers to all of those questions and illuminate the impact cancer immunotherapy is having today.

Cancer immunotherapy’s origins lie in the work of Dr. William B. Coley, the father of CRI’s founder. More than 100 years ago, Dr. Coley noticed that some of his patients with inoperable tumors went into remission after contracting a bacterial infection. He created a mixture of bacteria that, when injected into patients, replicated the effect he’d seen in the cases of spontaneous remission, at least in some patients. Coley didn’t realize, however, that the way his mixture worked relied on the body’s own immune system and its ability to target and eliminate threats.

The connection between Coley’s treatment and the immune system would come later as scientists gained a better understanding of the relationship between cancer and the immune system. These days, researchers funded by CRI are building on Coley’s pioneering work and expanding his insights by discovering new ways to treat cancer through immunotherapy.

This work is paying off. Recent successes in treating patients with cancer immunotherapy prompted Science magazine to name it Breakthrough of the Year in 2013. Immunotherapy has officially gained its foothold and now offers a fourth and complementary approach to cancer treatment besides surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy helps the body to fight for itself—enabling it to attack the cancerous cells instead of, in so many other cases, allowing them to reproduce and spread. If the immune system can be taught to fight cancer, the real cure may indeed be ourselves.

CRI is working to make immunotherapy the leading treatment in coming years by funding research aimed at making this treatment approach effective in many more types of cancer. So if you’re a little fuzzy on the basics of immunotherapy, tune in Monday, January 20, for a live show with Stupid Cancer and CRI. The show airs at 8 p.m. EST, and takes comments and questions from listeners. If you miss it live, you can always catch the podcast later at stupidcancer.org.

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