Uses, Risks and Benefits of Biological Therapy

Since there are so many benefits of biological therapy, this line of treatment has gained popularity since the 90s. Learn more.
Uses, Risks and Benefits of Biological Therapy

Last update: 28 August, 2021

Biological therapy refers to any type of treatment derived from living organisms. That can include microorganisms, animals, and humans. Doctors make non-biological drugs through chemical processes that don’t involve living things. Today, we’re going to look at the uses, risks, and benefits of biological therapy.

Biological therapy uses your immune system to stimulate and enhance your body’s immune response. This can help to stop, control or suppress some diseases. 

In addition, biological therapy can reinforce the immune system’s ability to fight off and prevent the spread of some cancer cells.

Types of biological therapy

A person receiving a vaccine.

There are a wide variety of biological therapy options. For example:

Vaccines

Vaccines are the most traditional form of biological therapy and they represent one of the greatest breakthroughs in medicine. They help to protect our bodies against infectious organisms. Here are some different types of vaccines:

  • Live attenuated vaccines. These ones use weakened microorganisms to help your body build immunity.
  • Toxoid vaccines. These ones contain a toxin produced by a microorganism and they block the toxic effects of the infection.
  • Biosynthetic vaccines. These contain synthetic substances that are similar to parts of the real microorganism.

Blood components

The most common blood component in biological therapy is hemocyte infusion. Doctors give this to people who have experienced severe blood loss.

Doctors will also commonly use blood plasma in some treatments. This treatment specifically uses the following proteins: albumin, globulins, and fibrinogen. When it comes to globulins, doctors most commonly use immunoglobulins. In particular, they use purified IgG to attack bacteria and viruses.

Protein

With this type of biological therapy, they’ll use natural proteins called cytokines. They help to regulate your immune system and protect you against infections. Also, they’re most common for cases of immunodeficiency, infections, and cancer.

In addition, monoclonal antibodies are in this group. To create these, the specialist will modify a protein and then the human body will produce antibodies against a certain microorganism.

Currently, there are three subgroups of this type of biological therapy:

  • Recombinant proteins. Scientists obtain these from cloning genes in the laboratory. Insulin is an example.
  • Monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies. Monoclonals are clones that scientists obtain from a single stem cell. On the other hand, polyclonal ones are from a mixture of several cells.
  • Fusion proteins. Scientists obtain these by combing two or more genes that were originally separated.

Benefits of biological therapy for different fields of medicine

There is a wide range of diseases that biological therapy can treat. In particular, doctors use this type of treatment for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and some genetic diseases.

In addition, this is a very dynamic field where specialists are conducting a large amount of research. Currently, doctors are using it to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Let’s take a look.

Benefits of biological therapy for rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Therefore the immune cells mistakenly attack the body itself, which causes chronic joint inflammation. Sometimes, this can affect other organs and other areas of the body as well.

One of the benefits of biological therapy for rheumatoid arthritis is that it disrupts the immune system signals that are causing the inflammation. As a result, it prevents the progression of the disease since the inflammatory processes are ultimately the cause of damage to the joints.

This therapy has proven to be more effective than other conventional options. That’s because it targets the specific elements that are causing inflammation and manages to interfere with the process.

Uses for cancer

The immune system fights foreign or invading agents that are in the body. Under normal conditions, it should identify cancer cells and fight them. However, that doesn’t always happen, which is why people get cancer.

Firstly, the goal of biological therapy in cancer is to get the immune system to recognize the cancer cells. Then, they should be able to destroy them. To do so, the doctor will inject substances into the patient that will stimulate the immune system’s cells and get them to work against the cancer cells.

Also, it’s possible to train immune cells in laboratories to attack cancer cells before reintroducing them into the body. In addition, biological therapy can block certain signals sent by cancer cells to suppress the immune system.

Side effects and risks of biological therapy

A sick woman on a couch.

In some cases, people won’t experience any side effects from biological therapy. However, others may have mild symptoms or even serious complications. In addition, the side effects will depend on the type of biological therapy the patient received.

In general, biological therapy can cause these effects:

  • Fever
  • Cold
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rashes
  • Exhaustion

In addition, these are some of the more serious side effects:

  • Serious infections. Sometimes a latent infection occurs.
  • Liver damage. Generally, a person with liver disease can’t undergo biological therapy.
  • Reduced ability to make new blood cells. 
  • Mild to severe allergic reaction.

In addition, some scientists point out that biological therapy may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. However, there isn’t enough evidence to support that. Therefore, they need to conduct more research before they can corroborate that.

Conclusion

Of course, all medical treatment involves some level of risks and biological therapy is no exception. Therefore, you shouldn’t undergo biological therapy without a thorough evaluation of your state of health and medical history.

Although there are many benefits of biological therapy, some people should not start it because they have conditions that can lead to serious side effects. Also, while undergoing this treatment, you shouldn’t get any types of vaccines. In addition, it’s important to follow the treatment strictly and to inform your doctor of any developments.

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