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What is ITP Awareness Month?


Image is from Global ITP Awareness Toolkit

Many health conditions affect the daily lives of both people in the United States, and also people around the world. Some conditions are better known such as breast cancer and HIV, while other conditions may not have as much awareness. Blood disorders often fall into this category, as many people are unaware of the serious consequences these cause in patients’ lives.

ITP is one such disorder that often leaves sufferers and families feeling invisible since little is known to the general public and lack of knowledge can even be evident in many medical practices. A lack of visibility makes it difficult for this disease to obtain research funding and limits the treatments available. For this reason, ITP Awareness Month takes on additional importance, bringing public awareness and assets to a lesser known illness.

Understanding How Blood Works

In order to understand how ITP affects people, it is important to first understand how blood works. Blood is made of two primary parts: cells and plasma. The plasma is the liquid, consisting of multiple substances like fats and protein, but is primarily water. The cells are the working pieces, made up of red cells, white cells, and platelets. Red cells carry oxygen while white cells fight infection. Platelets are very tiny cells that work to stop bleeding. If a single part of your blood does not function correctly, it can have an effect on the entire system.

How ITP Affects Platelets

ITP stands for Immune Thrombocytopenia. Implied by the name, ITP is an immune disorder. As with better known immune disorders, this illness causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells. In the case of ITP, the healthy cells that are attacked are the body’s platelets. Since platelets are a vital part of clotting, problems with these cells can trigger a range of complications.

People with ITP are prone to bruises and purple spots on the skin. Signs of spontaneous bleeding, most skin conditions are mild. Many ITP patients complain of general fatigue and sometimes depression. More serious problems occur when low platelet counts begin to affect the digestive system, gastrointestinal system, or worse, the brain. Spontaneous hemorrhage caused be platelet deficiency in these areas can lead to serious complications including organ failure and even death.

ITP Treatment

Platelet counts offer a method to monitor, but not treat ITP. Normal counts should range from 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter of blood. ITP patients often have counts closer to 30,000, with a count of 10,000 indicating a serious condition and risk of catastrophic bleed. There is no known cure for ITP, but there are some treatments that have been shown to help treat symptoms and reduce the risk of fatalities.

The Mayo treatment describes the following therapies for ITP.

  • Immune globulin injections that increase blood count.
  • Steroid drugs that suppress the immune system as well as non-steroid immune suppressants.
  • Drugs that boost platelet production.

Severe cases of ITP that do not respond well to the above therapies may require additional treatment such as the surgical removal of the spleen or stronger experimental drugs with harsher side effects.

ITP Awareness Day

By promoting ITP awareness you can do your part to help improve treatments, funding and overall quality of life for those who suffer from ITP. The Platelet Disorder Support Association offers materials and media kits available online.



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Understanding Immunotherapy


Image is from Cancer Research Catalyst – American Association for Cancer Research

Immunotherapy also known as biologic therapy is a type of treatment that induces or enhances the body’s immune system instead of using medicines. This process is usually done to treat cancer by stimulating the immune system to become more active in attacking cancer cells or by sustaining the body with man-made immune system proteins.

How Does the Immune System Work?

The immune system is the sum of all components that work together to maintain the normal functions of body organs. These components include but not limited to white blood cells, nutrients, and organ functions.

When the surface of skin is wounded, white blood cells work to heal the wound by eliminating foreign substances. When the wound is larger, it requires a lot of white blood cells to cover the wounded area. This will result in the appearance of lymph nodes near the area. This is where white blood cells build up.

In the process of eliminating foreign substances such as bacteria, germs, and cancer cells, body nutrients such as vitamin C may work to repair the damaged tissues and collagen.

Meanwhile, body organs work together to prevent disease-causing agents to stay inside the body. Kidney works to filter toxins, which are excreted through the urine. Digestive system separate important substances needed by the body from waste. The heart continues to pump blood to carry white blood cells and red blood cells needed to heal wounds.

These are some examples of how the immune system work. The immune system is not a single substance nor a single organ. It is an integration of several body systems that work together to protect the body from certain diseases.

The Immune System as Treatment for Cancer

There still no single medicine that can cure cancer. So far, an effective way to suppress the spread of cancer cells is through the immune system. The immune system serves as the police inside the body. It detects unwanted substances that may infect any area of the body.

However, cancer cells are not detected by the immune system as they appear to be like normal cells by of sending signals to the PD-1 CTLA-4 receptors. These signals confuse the immune system. This is why even a healthy body with strong immune system cannot prevent cancer.

Nonetheless, there is a way to make cancer cells detected by the immune system. The use of immunotherapy drugs such as inhibitors can disrupt the signals that are sent by cancer cells. This will let the cancer cells exposed to the immune system. Cytokines and cancer vaccines are examples of these inhibitors.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made immune system proteins. These proteins attach to cancer cells thereby flagging the cancer cells to be recognized by the immune system. On the other hand, monoclonal antibodies work to block the abnormal proteins in cancer cells, so they can also be used to prevent cancer cells from spreading.

These are examples of man-made antibodies:

  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • Nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • Ipilimumab (Yervoy)

Non-Specific Immunotherapies

Non-specific immunotherapies are used to boost the immune system to directly stop and kill cancer cells. Examples of these are interferons and interleukin’s.


The use of the immune system is still the most recommended method in the treatment of cancer. It only needs the help of inhibitors to let it work properly on the target. The problem with the immune system is that it is not intelligent enough to keep cancer cells from being hidden. This is why there is still a need for human intervention with the help of man-made antibodies.

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