Cell Therapy vs. Immunotherapy: What’s the Difference?

Today’s medical landscape is an exciting one. Extensive research into alternative therapeutic treatments has given rise to immunotherapies, regenerative medicines and more. For the layperson, understanding the differences among many of these innovative treatments can be difficult. There are a lot of new terms to know; for instance, if you watch the news or read the paper, you may recognize the words “cell therapy” and “immunotherapy,” but you might not understand what they really mean. Here’s a brief explanation of the two:

Cellular Therapy

Also called “cell therapy,” cellular therapy involves the harvesting of various types of human cells to “be used as part of a therapy or treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions.”  A great number of cellular therapies make use of stem cells. However, other types of cells can be used for cellular therapy, as well, such as red blood cells (RBCs), immune cells (like lymphocytes and dendritic cells) and islet cells. Indeed, some of the most common cellular therapies are blood transfusions, including those that transfer RBCs, white blood cells (WBCs) and/or platelets from one donor to another. You also may have heard about bone marrow transplants, a lifesaving treatment for many blood cancers, anemia and immune deficiency disorders: this is another type of cellular therapy. In addition to these well established applications, the last few decades of research has shown the promise of using cellular therapy to facilitate the regeneration of other types of tissues, as well. Legitimate stem cells clinics are now offering cellular therapies with adult stem cells to successfully treat degenerative joint and back conditions and even erectile dysfunction!


Like cellular therapy, immunotherapy uses biological material to help heal the body. However, unlike all types of cell therapy, immunotherapy doesn’t always involve the transfer of intact cells, but rather can also make use of proteins and monoclonal antibodies or other molecular material such as interleukins and interferons. And while cellular therapy has been proven effective in treating a variety of diseases, infections and cancers, immunotherapy has traditionally been used to treat specific forms of cancer (although research is starting to verify the use of immunotherapy for other conditions now, too).

There are several types of immunotherapy; each uses a patient’s own immune system either to attack specific types of cancerous cells or to boost his or her immunity as a whole to facilitate a generic but stronger immune response against them. One of the most common types of immunotherapy is called “adoptive cell therapy” and utilizes T-cells to help the patient fight certain lymphomas and leukemias. In this way, immunotherapy and cellular therapy converge with similar effect. On the other hand, though, immunotherapy can also include cytokine therapy, a type of treatment that relies on interferons and interleukins (not cells) to trigger an immune response against particular cancers when injected into a patient.

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