Leipzig’s Institute for Clinical Immunology: Special diagnostics and modern treatments

Immunology is an exciting and relatively new medical field that deals with the basics of the human immune system. Generally, the immune system is responsible for the destruction of pathogens and defective body cells. The field has developed so far that immunologists can tell a patient's treating specialists, such as oncologists, hematologists, rheumatologists, ENT (Ear, nose, and throat) doctors, pediatricians and transfusion physicians, about the type, maturation, and function of important cellular components of the blood.

Today immunologists are harvesting the abilities of the immune system to help it actively use the body's own defense system in the fight against cancer cells. The result is the so-called immune therapy or immunotherapy. The healthcare and cancer-fighting possibilities seem endless however, all these new treatments present a fundamental problem: even though they’re promising, they do not work for all patients. 

Therefore, immunologists at the Institute for Clinical Immunology at the University of Leipzig are vigorously working to find ways to find out which patients are suitable for test-phase immuno-oncological treatments. Headed by Dr. Ulrike Köhl, the Institute is looking for ways their diagnostic tools can help the attending physicians "virtually see" how the individual patient will respond to the therapy. Dr. Köhl says, “So far, we haven’t come up with an immuno-oncological weapon for every type of cancer. We are still in the beginning.”

The Institute for Clinical Immunology works closely with both the Fraunhofer IZI and the University Cancer Center as well as with the Institute for Transfusion Medicine. They have a mission to network with the hospitals in Dresden, Chemnitz, and Hanover. Through this collaboration, they have already produced more than 300 modern cell and gene therapy products. The set-up is impressive and unique for Germany. It features 21 cleanrooms for cellular preparations at Fraunhofer and has access to other facilities at the Leipzig University Hospital. And, since the Fraunhofer Institute is a charitable organization, it has permission to implement early clinical trials with university partners. This will help speed up the process of getting results.

Despite the great successes of immunotherapies, Dr. Köhl cautions that there are some serious side effects, which can also be fatal for some patients. Therefore, certain patients must be excluded from such new therapies which might be too dangerous for them. At this point, it’s still too early and these new cell therapies are so far only suitable for a small number of patients. And even with the outstanding results of using CAR T cells, these treatment possibilities are only related to certain forms of leukemia and lymphoma.

Still, Dr. Köhl is hopeful about the future of immunology and the developments in immunotherapy made possible with her work. In the end, patients must work closely with the treating physician to best decide which treatment options are the most promising ones, -- luckily Dr. Köhl can provide invaluable help and advice with the advanced diagnostics which the Institute of Clinical Immunology is developing.

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