President’s Perspective: The Immune System
The human body is incredibly complex. It is only fitting that we have an equally complex and ever-vigilant defense system to help maintain balance and prevent disease. The immune system is made up of a network of cells—T-cells, B-cells and NK cells—capable of identifying and targeting unhealthy and potentially dangerous cells, including, importantly, cancer cells.
This system is not always perfect, as those who suffer from autoimmune diseases know. An overly active immune system can attack otherwise healthy cells, causing conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and others. The immune system is also carefully monitored in those undergoing organ transplantation, as the system often attacks new tissue, potentially leading to the body’s rejection of a transplanted organ.
There are some researchers and physicians who argue that the immune system is so important to human health, it warrants a national research program on the scale of the Human Genome Project. On a daily basis, our immune systems are monitoring our bodies for cancerous cells, identifying and killing them.
In this issue of TMC Pulse, you will read about the incredible work being done at MD Anderson in the field of cancer immunotherapy—using a cancer patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Dr. Jim Allison and his team are making tremendous strides in their work with checkpoint inhibitors, which you will read more about in this month’s cover story, “Fighting Cancer From Within.” Allison has dedicated decades to researching how the body’s T-cells can be “unleashed” to help specifically target and fight off cancer cells. It’s exciting and potentially game-changing work, and it is happening right here on this campus.
Independently and collaboratively, researchers in the Texas Medical Center and around the world continue to explore new ways to not only harness the immune system to fight off infection and disease, but to also bring balance to those suffering from an overly or low functioning immune system.
With these passionate and dedicated researchers committed to harnessing the body’s own built-in defense system, there is no telling what the future may hold for the treatment of cancer and other deadly diseases.