Sequence 2: Cancer (target cells) Module 2:

Monoclonal antibodies and cancer treatment

The secon module within Sequence 2 focuses on developing an understanding of other modes of immunotherapy, such as the use of antibodies in the treatment of cancer. It is possible that this module could take 1-2 hours of class time.


VCE Biology (2017-2021)

Unit 3, Area of Study 2, Outcome 2, VCE Biology Study Design

Key knowledge

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


  • the use of monoclonal antibodies in treating cancer


1-2 hours

Student learning outcomes

On completion of this module, students will:

  • describe the purpose of monoclonal antibodies and how they are created
  • describe how cancerous cells use checkpoints as a way to avoid detection by the immune system
  • describe how monoclonal antibodies can be used as checkpoint inhibitors

Teacher background information

Module description

There are a wide range of treatments used in the fight against cancer. In sequence 1, module 1 students identified immunotherapy as the fourth pillar of treatment alongside surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

This module provides a brief overview of how scientists use monoclonal antibody therapy as a form of immunotherapy. They learn that monoclonal antibodies are developed within the laboratory and are administered to patients in the form of medicine. These monoclonal antibodies seek out and interact with cancer cells in order to initiate a range of immune responses. Firstly, monoclonal antibodies can be created to seek out and attach to tumour cells. These antibodies flag the ‘hidden’ tumour cell for destruction by a patient’s immune system. Secondly, monoclonal antibodies can also be developed as checkpoint inhibitors.

When T cells initiate an attack, the immune system increases a series of additional molecules to prevent the attack from damaging normal tissues in the body. These molecules are known as immune checkpoints. Cancer cells often utilize immune checkpoint molecules to suppress and evade an immune system attack. T cells, deceived by these normal-looking proteins, will not attack the cancer cells. Antibodies as checkpoint inhibitors block the immune checkpoint connections, resulting in the T cells attacking cancer cells.

The module builds on students prior understanding of the role and function of antibodies in the adaptive immune responses outlined in sequence 1, module 3.

Additional introductory resources


Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

An outline of monoclonal antibody therapy by Lymphoma Australia.


Cancer immunotherapy and the PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint pathway


Teaching sequence

Part 1 Introducing monoclonal antibodies

20 mins

Student knowledge/ skills outcome:

Prior Knowledge: Previous module


Activity 2.1 - What is a monoclonal antibody and how are they produced? (10-15mins)

Students watch an animation about how monoclonal antibodies are produced, and then undertake an online quiz or complete a worksheet to test their knowledge (page 11 of the resource pack (MSWord 370KB)).

Part 2 Monoclonal antibodies and checkpoint inhibitors as cancer treatments


Student knowledge/ skills outcome:

Prior Knowledge: Previous module


Activity 2.2 - (50mins–2hrs)

In this paired activity, students are asked to design a poster for the purpose of informing potential patients and the public about the use of monoclonal antibodies in the treatment of cancer.

Information provided on the poster should address (but is not limited to):

  • Describing/illustrating what monoclonal antibodies are
  • Outlining/illustrating how they are produced
  • Selecting one use of monoclonal antibodies in cancer treatment and describing and illustrating how they are used in the treatment of cancer (such as checkpoint inhibitors)

Students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of how monoclonal antibodies work as checkpoint inhibitors or as flags to tag cancer cells for destruction, as part of immunotherapy treatment options.

The teacher introduces the topic using the following animations and through whole-class discussions:


How is Immunotherapy Used to Fight Cancer? Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (2:43)

This video provides a brief outline of how human antibodies are used to block the PD-1 and PD-L1 checkpoints so that cancer can be targeted. A great introductory video.


Monoclonal Antibodies: Making Cancer a Target (1:53)

This video provides a definition of a monoclonal antibody. It uses the example of the drug Herceptin to illustrate how monoclonal antibodies bind to a cancer antigen inhibiting the cancer cell’s growth or tagging it for destruction by a patient’s own immune system.


Students use the following range of online resources (a webquest) to investigate use of monoclonal antibodies in the treatment of cancer:


Monoclonal Antibodies (MABs)

Defines monoclonal antibodies and outlines how monoclonal antibodies are used for a range of immunotherapies, such as marking cancer cells for destruction or used as checkpoint inhibitors, both a means of stimulating a patient’s own immune responses to detect and kill cancer.

Animation (Video)

PD-L1/PD-1 Pathway: A Security Checkpoint (3: 29)

A short video on revisiting how T cells identify cancer cells. It highlights how cancer avoid detection by T cells via PD-L1 on the cancer cell binding to PD-1 and B7-1 on the T cell. If cancer treatments can stop the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway connection, then T cells can identify and kill the cancer cell.


Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer (6:03)

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists discuss research on immunotherapies that block the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway. The research highlights how a combined therapy approach may be more effective in managing the treatment of cancer.


Discovering the PD-1 Checkpoint: Winners of the 2014 William B. Coley Award for Tumor Immunology

Dr Sharpe and Dr Freeman outline how they discovered the PD-1 immune checkpoint, and how this knowledge has been used to develop immunotherapy treatments enabling T cells to better identify and attack cancer cells.


Anti-PD-1: A Novel Immunotherapy

Back to top


Thanks to the following for contributing to the development of these sequences:

Special thanks to Ian Bentley and Mary Vamvakas