Alaska Clinical Research Center

Biological and Vaccine Treatments

Biological and vaccine treatments are a relatively new way of fighting cancer by recruiting the body’s immune system into destroying cancer cells. Sometimes referred to as “immunotherapy,” biological and vaccine treatments utilize specially designed drugs to help the patient’s body recognize cancer cells as foreign, then defend itself against them in much the same way it would defend itself against a virus.

Biological treatments generally involve creating versions of substances such as antibodies or cytokines in a laboratory that are designed to help the body target specific cancer cells. They work by boosting the power of immune-system substances such T cells, NK cells and macrophages so that they either attack the cancer cells or repair non-cancerous cells that were damaged by another cancer-fighting treatment.

One form of biological treatment that Institute oncologists may utilize is the application of monoclonal antibodies, which are molecules produced in a laboratory and designed to attach themselves to a specific type of cancer cell, thereby attracting the body’s immune system to it.

Vaccines are a type of biological treatment that may be able to fight cancer in a way that is similar to the way vaccines fight measles and tetanus.