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Cancer Immunotherapy: a Step Change in Cancer Treatment

This course will teach you about the power of your immune system and how new immunotherapies are transforming cancer treatment.

7,207 enrolled on this course

Cancer immunotherapy: a microscopic image of lymphocytes (or immune cells) attacking a cancer cell
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Over 12 million people die of cancer worldwide each year. Although treatments are improving, there is still a long way to go, and some cancers are still very difficult to treat. Consequently, there is a desperate need for new treatment approaches.

Learn about the rise of immunotherapy

The idea of harnessing your immune system to target tumours has been around for a long time, but in the last five years remarkable clinical trials results have led to immunotherapy being heralded as a potential turning point in the fight against cancer.

This free online course will teach you about the amazing job your immune system does in keeping you healthy, and how we can exploit it to fight cancer.

Understand how immunotherapy is starting to tackle cancer

We will explain why cancer presents the immune system with a particularly difficult challenge, and how cancer cells can escape immune attack.

You will learn how new immunotherapy strategies are transforming cancer treatment work, and why they are regarded as such a key breakthrough.

Finally, we will look ahead to new developments in cancer immunotherapy, which might provide the basis of tomorrow’s cancer treatments.

You can see what the educators and their colleagues in the University of Birmingham’s Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre are up to by following their Twitter feed @CIIC_UoB. You can also find out more on the CIIC website.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds BEN WILLCOX: I’m Ben Wilcox. I’m a Professor of Molecular Immunology at the University of Birmingham and also director of the University’s Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre, or CIIC. My own research is focused on understanding how receptors on the surface of our immune cells enable them to recognise signs of abnormality on target cells, and on how we can exploit this to find new ways to treat the disease

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds HEATHER LONG: I’m Dr. Heather Long. I’m a lecturer and immunologist based at the University of Birmingham. My research focuses on understanding how the immune system can control viruses associated with cancer.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds GARY MIDDLETON: Hello, my name is Gary Middleton. I’m a Professor of Medical Oncology at the University Hospital Birmingham. I’ve also got a contract with the University of Birmingham. My two main clinical interests are colorectal cancer and lung cancer, two big killers, still, and particular, preclinical and translational interests, that again, really are in immunobiology, particularly in understanding what sort of cells stop the immune system from working.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 seconds BEN WILLCOX: In Birmingham, we are uniquely placed to explain how the immune system can be used to treat cancer. Right at the heart of the campus is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. Linked to the hospital is the University’s Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre– or CIIC, as we call it– a collaborative grouping of scientists and clinicians specifically focused on understanding the science behind these new therapies and on developing new immunotherapies to fight the disease. Birmingham is also fortunate to host the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit, one of the largest clinical trials units for cancer in the whole of Europe.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds HEATHER LONG: Cancer affects all of us. It is very likely that you know someone who has died of the disease. In the UK alone, up to one in two people are predicted to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. And although great advances are being made in cancer treatment, with over 50% of those diagnosed likely to survive, there is still a long way to go. The disease kills over 12 million people worldwide every year. We desperately need new ways to tackle cancer.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds BEN WILLCOX: The idea of harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer has actually been around for a long time. But until recently, it has had limited impact in terms of how we actually treat most cancer patients. That picture is now changing dramatically. Clinical trial results over the last five years or so have marked this area out as a real turning point in the fight against cancer, and one of the most exciting, fast-moving areas in the whole of clinical medicine.

Skip to 2 minutes and 50 seconds GARY MIDDLETON: I can remember sitting in the audience at our main American meeting in 2012, when the first stage was presented, and I was blown away by this. These were patients where we were using treatments to block– something that stops the immune system from working in cancer. And we were seeing some really amazing results.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds BEN WILLCOX: The idea of exploiting the patient’s own immune system to target their tumour, which is such a different approach to conventional anti-cancer treatments, has turned from a pipe dream into a therapeutic reality. In this course, we will explain some of the key ideas behind cancer immunotherapy. What is the immune system? And what has the immune system got to do with cancer? How do the new cancer immunotherapies work? How can we engineer smart immune cells to target cancer cells? Can we personalise immunotherapy approaches to individual patients?

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds HEATHER LONG: If you’re interested in how the immune system can recognise cancer, how new immunotherapies work, what is the future of cancer immunotherapy, then sign up for our free course.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

This course will be relevant if you are interested in cancer, or enjoy learning about the immune system and medicine. Secondary or high school-level knowledge of science is sufficient to complete this course.

There will also be optional, additional materials for those already educated to undergraduate level, and those who would like to challenge themselves and explore beyond the core material.

Who will you learn with?

Ben is Professor of Molecular Immunology at the University of Birmingham. He leads a team researching immune receptors and developing new cancer immunotherapies. He also teaches extensively.

Dr Heather Long is an Immunologist and Lecturer with an interest in the immune response to cancer-associated viruses. Her group is focussed on identifying immune cells with therapeutic potential

Who developed the course?

University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control

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