I-O research can potentially uncover ways to enable immunogenicity of all types of cancer and facilitate long lasting, protective immunity against future recurrence [1-3]. Recent breakthroughs in checkpoint inhibitor therapy research, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy research, and cancer vaccine research, illuminate the full capabilities of the immune system and how it may be harnessed to combat cancer. The figure below shows where they correlate within the cancer-immunity cycle . Let’s review each one in more detail.
Checkpoint inhibitory therapy research studies immune checkpoints. These are cell pathways crucial in maintaining a normal immune response and protecting tissues from damage when the immune system is activated [5,6]. Cancer cells dysregulate immune checkpoints and use them as a mechanism of immune resistance. Understanding the interactions between tumor and immune cells is one of the main approaches in I-O research [7,8].
CAR T Cell therapy is actually a form of Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT), which targets the immune system, enabling the body’s natural ability to fight the cancer, instead of directly targeting the cancer itself. CAR T cells are generated from the body’s own T cells and are engineered to express antibody-like chimeric antigen receptors for targeting specific cancer cells via surface proteins or intracellular proteins, inducing anticancer attack.
Vaccines represent another important I-O research area aimed at enabling the immune system to recognize cancer as a threat. This method is antigen based, relying on the ability of the immune system to recognize the protein to induce the immune response. Scientists endeavor to identify new tumor-associated antigens, called neoantigens, released within the tumor microenvironment . This aids in understanding how tumors form and spread, which informs the development of vaccines.
The I-O workflow varies depending on the research approach but a general schematic is shown below. This starts with the biomarker discovery phase, continues into further research on targets of interest, including contextual studies within model systems, and finally may conclude with characterization and verification. This workflow is applicable across different approaches within I-O, including checkpoint inhibitor research, CAR T cell therapy research, and cancer vaccine research.
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