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Harnessing the Immune System to Treat Cancer

Cancer cells 3D render
Cancer cells 3D render

Jennifer Wilson

Senior Manager of Research Programs, Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer cells are masters of disguise. They can hide and hijack our immune system due to their unique make-up of our body’s own cells and the genetic changes that make them behave abnormally.

Our immune systems are good at fighting infections or diseases in our bodies, but when cancer cells evade our immune system for too long, they can spread, creating harder-to-treat cancers.

Now, scientists are working to harness the power of our immune systems via immunotherapy to treat cancer. A growing field of cancer research, immunotherapy helps your immune system work smarter and harder.

Finding solutions

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is funding world-class researchers to study new ways to help the immune system find, recognize, and attack cancer cells.

“Immunotherapy research is happening from coast to coast in Canada,” says Jennifer Wilson, the interim director of research operations at CCS. “CCS-funded researchers are making exciting progress in this field, especially in the development of cancer vaccines and cancer-fighting viruses.”

Our researchers are pushing the boundaries of immunotherapy.

Jennifer Wilson

In British Columbia, Dr. Brad Nelson is studying how immune cells fight ovarian cancer in order to develop new immunotherapies; in Ontario, Dr. John Bell and his team are working to tailor therapy with cancer viruses to better fight hard-to-treat cancers, like pancreatic cancer; and in Nova Scotia, Dr. Jean Marshall is researching how an over-the-counter heartburn drug may be able to block breast cancer through its effects on immune cells.

“Our researchers are pushing the boundaries of immunotherapy by gaining deeper insights into how cancer evades the army of cancer-fighting immune cells and how to harness the power of the immune system to better attack cancer,” says Ms. Wilson.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters, CCS is able to fund promising research in a wide variety of leading-edge areas, including immunotherapy. This research can lead to better treatments for people with cancer and, ultimately, more cancer survivors.

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