Immunotherapy uses a patient’s own immune responses to fight cancer and is considered the fourth pillar of cancer treatment alongside surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The term immunotherapy encompasses a number of different treatment options, each with their own distinct ways in which they stimulate or restore a patient’s immune function.
The use of immunotherapy to treat cancer has been evolving rapidly over the last couple of decades. Research into cancer immunotherapy has focused on the design and development of drugs based on an understanding of cell biology and the body’s adaptive immune responses. Recently, the focus has moved towards the genetic modification of T cells, known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, with an emphasis on improving the efficacy of CAR-T cells to detect and kill cancer cells. The Water and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) is at the forefront of research into CAR-T cell immunotherapy.
The following teaching resource uses the contemporary field of cancer immunotherapy to introduce the concepts of humoral and cell-mediated immune responses within the adaptive immune system. It facilitates student understanding of a number of cellular mechanisms, such as a malfunction of apoptosis (programmed cell death) that contribute to deviant cell behavior, leading to cancer.
The teaching resource is outlined in two sections:
Sequence 1: CAR T cell immunotherapy.
Module 1: What is Immunotherapy?
Module 2: CAR-T cell technology
Module 3: Adaptive Immune Responses
Sequence 2: Cancer.
Module 1: What is cancer?
Module 2: Cancer treatments
Module 3: Ethics of cancer treatments (yet to be developed)
Links to the Curriculum
The immunotherapy teacher resource is linked to the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Biology Study Design (2017-2021). The resource focuses on key knowledge within Unit 3 (How do cells maintain life?).
In Area of Study 2: How do cells communicate? The key knowledge addressed within the unit is as follows:
Responding to antigens
the characteristics and roles of components of the adaptive (specific) immune response including the actions of B lymphocytes and their antibodies (including antibody structure) in humoral immunity, and the actions of T helper and T cytotoxic cells in cell-mediated immunity
apoptosis as a natural, regulatory process of programmed cell death, initiated after a cell receives a signal from inside (mitochondrial pathway) or from outside (death receptor pathway) the cell resulting in the removal of cells that are no longer needed or that may be a threat to an organism, mediated by enzymes (caspases) that cleave specific proteins in the cytoplasm or nucleus
malfunctions in apoptosis that result in deviant cell behavior leading to diseases including cancer
the use of monoclonal antibodies in treating cancer
Dr Misty Jenkins tells us her story and about her research on CAR T –cell Immunotherapy.
Abbas, A Lichtman, A, Pillai, S. 2015, Cellular and Molecular Immunology, 8th edn, Elsevier Incorporated, Chatswood NSW.
Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre, University of Birmingham 2016, The story of Emily Whitehead - the girl who lived, retrieved 5 September 2016, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/cancer-immunotherapy/1/steps/76569>.
Magee M. 2014, Challenges to CAR T-cell therapy for Cancer, retrieved 20 September 2016, <http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Michael-S-Magee/2014/11/challenges-to-chimeric-antigen-receptor-car-t-cell-therapy-for-cancer/>.
Srivastava, S & Riddell, S 2015, ‘Engineering CAR-T cells: Design concepts’, Trends in Immunology , vol. 36, no. 8, pp. 494 – 502, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.it.2015.06.004
Rodriguez, V n.d. Using differentiated instruction to teach immunological concepts to a diverse group of learners, Southwest High School, retrieved 18 October 2016, <http://www.aai.org/education/summer_teachers/docs/archive/2011_rodriguez_victor_final.pdf>.
Unknown n.d., Figure 2: Antitumor effects mediated by CAR-engrafted T cells, retrieved 26 October 2016, < https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2010/956304/fig2/>.)
Thanks to the following for contributing to the development of these sequences:
Alison Brown MTeach student at Deakin University (Pre-Service Teacher Contributor and Collator)
Dr Misty Jenkins is a NHMRC RD Wright fellow and laboratory head in the Immunology Division at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, where she researches cellular immunology and cancer immunotherapy. Misty studied her PhD in viral Immunology with Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty at The University of Melbourne, followed by postdoctoral positions at The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and a postdoctoral position in cancer research at The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Dr Jenkins has a long-standing interest in T cell killing, the immune synapse, and harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer.
Dr Jenkins was awarded the L’Oreal for Women in Science Fellowship (2013), was Tall Poppy of the year (2015) and won the Westpac/Australian Financial Review Top100 Women of Influence award (2016). In addition to her research career, Dr Jenkins is experienced in governance and is passionate about Indigenous health and education. She is a Board Director for Monash Health, Director and Deputy Chair of The National Centre for Indigenous Genomics at ANU, ambassador for the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and is Chair of the NHMRC Indigenous Project Grant Review Panels.
Dr. Peta White Lecturer in Science and Environmental Education at Deakin University (Education Academic and Project Coordinator)