What is an Interferon?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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An interferon is a protein produced by the body's immune system in response to an infection. Interferons are part of a larger group of proteins known as cytokines, and they are made by cells such as leukocytes, T-cells, and fibroblasts. In addition to being made naturally in the body, interferon can also be produced in laboratories for the purpose of medical treatment, and several pharmaceutical companies have versions of interferon on the market.

There are three types of interferon: Type I, Type II, and Type III. These types are divided by the types of cells they interact with, how they are produced, and what they do. Type I interferons include subclassifications known as alpha, beta, kappa, delta, epsilon, tau, omega, and zeta. The Type II interferons include interferon-gamma, made by the T-cells, while the Type III category consists of several versions of interferon-lambda. The Type III classification is not accepted by all members of the medical community.

When the body detects the signs of a viral intrusion or infection, it can trigger the production of interferons. The interferons can stimulate the production of specific proteins, inhibiting viral replication inside the cells of the body and making the body more resistant to the virus. The body only makes these proteins when they are needed, because they can interfere with normal activities such as the production of red blood cells. Other animals also produce cytokines in response to infections and viral incursions, although these proteins vary from animal to animal.

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In medical therapy, interferons are sometimes administered to boost the function of the immune systems. Interferon injections are used in the treatment of some cancers so that the body can fight the atypical cells characteristic of the cancer more effectively, and these proteins are also used in the treatment of conditions such as hepatitis C. Interferon treatment can be grueling for patients, and they generally experience symptoms such as nausea, irritability, and fatigue.

Additional types of interferon are constantly being discovered, and researchers are always learning new things about the functions of these proteins in the body. Additional research has revealed a range of potential therapeutic uses, and it has also helped the medical community understand how the immune system works, and what can cause it to break down. In addition to being approved for a range of medical treatments, these proteins are sometimes administered in off-label situations to treat conditions which appear to respond to interferon.

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wavy58
Post 4

@shell4life - My cousin also was being treated with interferons for cancer. She got very depressed and irritable. Being around her really challenged my patience! She also had trouble sleeping and eventually developed tremors and memory loss. She could not even remember things I had just told her!

She got so bad that she started to tell me about her suicidal thoughts. Her mood would shift dramatically from her being so happy that I was there with her to wanting to take a bunch of pills and end it all. Her doctor put her on an antidepressant to prevent her from doing this.

Though the side effects of the treatment were life-threatening in themselves, I am glad she was treated with interferons, because it worked. Today, she is cancer-free and back to normal.

shell4life
Post 3

@lighth0se33 - My brother has melanoma. Interferons in high doses are the only treatment available for melanoma patients who have a high risk of recurrence post-surgery. Sadly, the side effects are terrible.

When he first started treatment, he got flu-like symptoms. His body grew tolerant to these after awhile, and he learned that taking acetaminophen, naproxin, and anti-vomiting drugs prior to injection reduced the symptom’s severity.

He experienced fatigue that intensified as treatment continued. He could hardly get out of bed some days. He lost weight because he felt full very soon after beginning to eat. He combated this by taking vitamins and supplements and eating small meals frequently.

StarJo
Post 2

@lighth0se33 - My aunt also has melanoma, and she is being treated with interferons. We got online and studied interferon treatment before she started it. Interferons also are used to treat hairy cell leukemia, follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is associated with AIDS.

Other diseases that interferons can treat include multiple sclerosis and chronic granulomatous disease.

I hope I have been of some help to you!

lighth0se33
Post 1

Does anyone know what types of cancer are best treated with interferons? My great-aunt has melanoma, and I wondered if interferon treatment would work for her.

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