Immunotherapy is a common treatment that uses a person’s own immune system to fight cancer and other diseases. There are different kinds of immunotherapies that work in different ways. Some help your immune system locate the cancer cells to better attack them. Others find ways to get around the cancer cells’ defense system and other make your immune system stronger.

UAB Medicine’s Hematology and Oncology team is staffed by world-renowned physicians and clinicians, who provide compassionate care and support you through every stage of treatment. As part of the National Cancer Institute-designated O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, they work as a team with other cancer specialists to develop comprehensive and individualized treatment plans for each of our patients, some of which may include immunotherapy.

There are many kinds of immunotherapies and the type used depends on the patient’s medical history, the type of cancer, location and size of the cancer cells or tumor, in addition to other factors. Some types include:

Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT)/Stem Cell Transplant

A blood or bone marrow transplant (BMT) may be used to treat some types of cancers and certain other diseases. Normal, healthy cells – stem cells – are collected from either the patient or a donor and transplanted through process called apheresis. These stem cells will begin to grow in the patient’s marrow over the next few weeks, producing more healthy cells like red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. BMT may be used to treat some types of leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, POEMS syndrome, myelodysplastic syndrome, myeloproliferative disorders, aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, and other conditions. More than 3,535 blood and marrow transplants have been performed at UAB since opening in 1991.

CAR T-Cell Therapy

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is quickly becoming a pillar of cancer care. This therapy gets immune cells called T cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight cancer by changing them in the lab so they can find and destroy cancer cells. It involves altering the genes inside T cells to help them attack the cancer. This type of treatment can be very effective in treating some types of cancer like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, even when other treatments are no longer working. The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only place in Alabama offering this innovative therapy.

Cellular Therapy

Cellular therapies are a very personalized treatment that kills cancer cells by using a patient’s own immune cells to fight against them. It’s a relatively new – but incredibly promising – method being used in the treatment of some cancers.

When used to treat cancer, cell therapy takes advantage of the immune system’s natural ability to find and destroy abnormal cells in the body. This approach goes by many names, including immune cell therapy and adoptive cell therapy, but they all refer to the same type of cancer treatment.

The UAB Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Cell Therapy Program at O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is staffed by world-renowned, highly experienced physicians and clinicians, who provide compassionate care and support you through every stage of treatment. We offer cutting-edge treatments like cellular therapy, along with access to clinical trials which help us discover new, safe, and effective treatments. In fact, blood and marrow transplantation and cell therapy are already being used at UAB, treating a wide range of conditions.


Cytokines are small proteins that play an important role in the immune system and controlling the growth of other immune system cells and blood cells. They help signal the immune system to do its job. They also help to boost anti-cancer activity by sending signals that can help kill cancer cells while helping normal cells live longer. Some cytokines can be made in a lab and are used to treat cancer, while others can help prevent or manage side effects from chemotherapy.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

Immune checkpoints are a normal part of the immune system and help prevent an immune response from being so strong that it destroys healthy cells. But they can also prevent the immune system from destroying the cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a drug that helps to stop the checkpoints, making sure other therapies are effective.

Immune Effector Cell (IEC) Therapy

An immune effector cell is a cell that can boost your own body’s immune response and can be helpful in treating certain diseases. T-cells – one kind of IEC – makes a person’s own immune system target the diseased cells and fight them off or kill them. Antigen specific T-cells are another type, which target viruses, fungi, bacteria and can also be used for certain cancers.


Immunomodulators are drugs that can help the immune system work against a threat like cancer cells. They help to slow down or stop the growth of the cancer cells and are used to treat some cancers, including acute lymphatic leukemia.

Natural Killer (NK) Cells

Natural killer cells are what they sound like – cells that kill other cells, especially those causing infection and disease. A natural killer cell is a type of white blood cell (immune cell) that small particles with enzymes that naturally fight tumor cells or cells infected with a virus. UAB researchers are actively investigating NK cells for use in fighting cancers and other diseases.

Monoclonal Antibodies

One way the body’s immune system attacks cancer cells is by creating extra antibodies. Antibodies move throughout your body to target, attach to, and attack specific cells. Antibodies can be copied in the lab and used to help fight cancer. Monoclonal antibodies are used to treat many diseases, including some types of cancer.

Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) Therapy

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are a type of immune cell that has moved from the blood into a tumor. They can identify and kill cancer cells. In cancer therapy, these cells are removed from a patient’s tumor, grown in large numbers in a laboratory, and then given back to the patient to help the immune system kill the cancer cells. TIL therapy is an experimental therapy that may someday be helpful in treating solid tumors, like melanoma.


Cancer vaccines are different than vaccines usually used to prevent infections, like the measles or the flu. Cancer vaccines work by making a person’s immune system attack cancer cells. Vaccines are often used together with other treatments to most effectively fight cancer cells and keep them from coming back.

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