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Biological response modifiers are substances that affect the way the body interacts with antigens. Naturally occurring response modifiers alert the body to the presence of bacteria, viruses, or allergens and begin an immune response to eliminate threats posed by these foreign bodies. They are also responsible for stopping the immune response when it is no longer needed. In medicine, biological response modifiers can also be used to stop an unnecessary immune reaction or to boost the immune system to fight off disease on its own.
A number of different chemicals make up the group of biological response modifiers found in the human body. Interleukin, cytokines, and interferons give instructions to cells in the immune system that stimulate the immune response. Under normal circumstances, this response will result in the elimination of antigens that could otherwise cause sickness. In other cases, the immune response may be triggered to deal with non-dangerous substances, such as allergens.
Doctors use biological response modifiers to treat a number of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. In this condition, the immune response unnecessarily creates painful inflammation. Treating a patient with biological response modifiers that decrease immune activity can relieve the symptoms of this disorder. The downside of this treatment is that the patient's entire immune system is depressed, making it easier for other infections to take hold.
Research is also being done into using biological response modifiers in the treatment of cancer. In this type of treatment, patients are given modifiers that can boost the immune system and stimulate an immune response against cancer cells. This treatment would use the patient's own immune system to battle cancer, which is one way that cancerous growths can be destroyed.
Patients with compromised immune systems may also be able to benefit from treatment with biological response modifiers. Stimulating the growth of blood cells in the bone marrow can help a person create more of their own antibodies. Though this treatment is still experimental, it may be useful for patients who have had much of their immune systems destroyed by radiation or chemotherapy for cancer.
Though the use of biological response modifiers is promising, it is not without its problems. Patients who undergo this treatment may experience flu-like symptoms, just as they would if their immune system was heightened to fight off a potentially serious infection, such as influenza. It is also possible for patients to have a negative reaction to the modifiers that are introduced to their bodies.