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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Abubakari

Harnessing the Power of Interleukins in Cancer Therapy

Cancer remains one of the most difficult challenges in modern medicine, and researchers have continually been exploring ways to combat this disease. Interleukins, a group of signaling molecules in the immune system, have gained traction in recent years for their potential in cancer therapy. Playing a significant role in regulating the immune system, interleukins have been harnessed by scientists and researchers to enhance the body's natural defenses against cancer. In this post, we'll explore the world of interleukins in cancer therapy.

Harnessing the Power of Interleukins in Cancer Therapy

Interleukins are a group of cytokines (small signaling proteins) that play a vital role in the body's immune response. The individual cytokines have been designated numbers (e.g., IL-2, IL-6, IL-12) to identify specific members of this protein family. Interleukins are produced by various immune system cells, such as T cells, B cells, and macrophages, and act as messengers, transmitting information among immune cells to regulate the immune response (1).

The potential of interleukins in cancer therapy lies in their ability to boost the body's immune response to target and destroy cancer cells. Cancer cells often develop mechanisms to evade the immune system, but interleukins can help overcome these obstacles. The following interleukins have shown promise in cancer therapy:

  1. IL-2 (Interleukin-2): IL-2 is one of the earliest interleukins approved for study by the FDA for its therapeutic potential in cancer (2). It has been used in clinical settings to treat certain types of cancer, including melanoma and renal cell carcinoma. IL-2 promotes the growth and activity of T cells and natural killer cells, which are crucial components of the immune system's cancer-fighting arsenal.

  2. IL-12 (Interleukin-12): IL-12 has shown promise in enhancing the immune system's response to cancer (3). It helps stimulate the production of interferon-gamma and T cells, leading to a more robust immune response against cancer cells.

  3. IL-15 (Interleukin-15): IL-15 has gained attention for its potential in cancer immunotherapy. It enhances the proliferation and activity of T cells and natural killer cells, making it a valuable tool in improving the immune system's ability to target cancer.

  4. IL-6 (Interleukin-6): While IL-6 has been primarily associated with inflammatory responses, it can also play a role in cancer development and progression. Some cancer therapies target IL-6 to inhibit its activity and slow down tumor growth.

Interleukins are often used in combination with other immunotherapies, such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapies (4). Checkpoint inhibitors block proteins that prevent immune cells from attacking cancer cells, while CAR-T cell therapy involves engineering patient's T cells to recognize and target cancer cells.Combining interleukins with these therapies can enhance their effectiveness by promoting a more robust and targeted immune response against cancer. These combination approaches are particularly promising in the treatment of various cancers, including melanoma, lung cancer, and leukemia.

While interleukins hold great promise in cancer therapy, there are challenges and considerations to keep in mind. According to the American Cancer Society, the use of interleukins can lead to side effects, which can range from flu-like symptoms to more severe immune-related adverse events (5). Therefore, careful monitoring and management are essential when using interleukins in cancer therapy. Furthermore, not all cancer patients will benefit from interleukin-based therapies. Identifying the patients who are most likely to respond positively is a crucial aspect of treatment planning. The field of interleukin-based cancer therapy is continuously evolving, with ongoing research aiming to refine treatment approaches and expand the range of cancers that can be effectively treated with interleukins.

Interleukins are emerging as powerful tools in the fight against cancer. Their ability to stimulate the immune system and enhance its capacity to target cancer cells has made them a valuable asset in the world of cancer therapy. As researchers continue to explore the potential of interleukins and refine treatment strategies, the outlook for cancer patients is growing brighter. The synergy between interleukins and other immunotherapies offers new hope in the battle against this devastating disease, offering patients a chance for more effective and targeted treatment options.


  1. Azimifar, M. A., Hashemi, M., Babaei, N., Salmasi, Z., & Doosti, A. (2023). Interleukin gene delivery for cancer gene therapy: In vitro and in vivo studies. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 26(2), 128–136.

  2. Jiang, T., Zhou, C., & Ren, S. (2016). Role of IL-2 in cancer immunotherapy. Oncoimmunology, 5(6), e1163462.

  3. Mirlekar, B., & Pylayeva-Gupta, Y. (2021). IL-12 Family Cytokines in Cancer and Immunotherapy. Cancers, 13(2), 167.

  4. Grosser, R., Cherkassky, L., Chintala, N., & Adusumilli, P. S. (2019). Combination Immunotherapy with CAR T Cells and Checkpoint Blockade for the Treatment of Solid Tumors. Cancer cell, 36(5), 471–482.

  5. Americancancersociety. Cytokines and their side effects. 2019.

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