On 29 of April, all over the world, we celebrate the International Day of Immunology established 14 years ago, in 2005 by EFIS (European Federation of Immunological Societies). The aim of this day is to raise awareness and inform the public and the patients, introducing immunology and its achievements in medicine.
In an interview with Sky TG24, Professor Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of Humanitas, spoke about immunology applied to oncology.
Every day, in Italy, about one thousand people discover that they have a form of cancer; even though it is a disease that is still very scary, about 60% survive 5 years after diagnosis, equal to 1.5 million patients, an average much higher than European data, due to the progress of research in Italy.
Immunology is the study of our immune defenses. Immune system disorders can cause autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases and cancers. The immune system, every day, defends our body from the onslaught of hostile ‘external invaders’ such as viruses, bacteria or other harmful substances, eliminating even those cells that are at risk of becoming cancer cells.
“It is a discipline that together with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery represents a valuable ally in the fight against cancer – explained Mantovani -. It is a weapon that has been added to the traditional ones to fight against cancer, a new frontier and a new continent that we have begun to explore and that is giving us good results”:
The steps forward
With the study of immunology applied to oncology and the identification of new molecules and functions, “we have discovered that, in a patient with cancer, a part of our defenses – what I call our ‘cops’ – are corrupt and it is as if they have a handbrake pulled in the fight against cancer cells. So far, we have learned to remove some of these brakes, changing the history of some cancers such as melanoma.
Our immune system is one of the most complex and complicated in our organism: it’s like an orchestra – the professor has explained -; we still don’t know all the instruments of this orchestra, but knowing some of its components has opened new paths to diagnosis and therapy”:
Diagnosis and survival
“In Italy we should be proud to have a higher average cancer survival than in the rest of Europe. The Italian health system ensures patients with cancer above the European average”, Mantovani clarified, “despite the fact that the countries of Northern Europe are the richest and spend the most resources on health. It is a real Italian miracle and at the root there is the competence and dedication of our doctors, there is a good National Health Service and there is good research”.