From the handrails on the bus to the cutlery in your staff canteen, the world is full of harmful pathogens. There’s no getting around them; everyday you find yourself exposed to countless bacteria and viruses.
Left unchecked, these would run rampant through your body, resulting in any number of diseases and illnesses.
Often the only thing standing between these pathogens and you is the effectiveness of your immune system.
What is the immune system?
Generally considered one of our greatest evolutionary advantages, the immune system is your body’s biological response system that protects you against disease. It works by specifically identifying harmful agents in your body, such as bacteria and viruses.
Once detected, these pathogens find themselves under attack from your immune system, which in most cases destroys them before they can do you proper harm.
Innate and adaptive
The immune system can be divided into two main layers: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.
The innate immune system is a general first defence, responding broadly to a range of cellular alarms and distress signals in order to fight microbes in a general, non-specific way.
Our adaptive immune system is the next level of defence, evolved to offer a stronger, more specific response to harmful pathogens. It offers immunological memory, enabling tailored responses and faster defences against future reinfections.
Clearly, our immune systems are of vital importance to both our personal health and our continued survival as a species.
Unfortunately, when identifying harmful pathogens, our immune systems don’t always get it right.
Autoimmunity and you
You probably know someone with hay fever, chronic psoriasis, type one diabetes or Celiac disease, for example. Maybe you suffer with one of these yourself.
What makes these illnesses different from traditional diseases is that they are not caused by foreign pathogens but are instead the result of your immune system attacking your own body.
Sometimes a person’s immune system misfires, incorrectly identifying cells from the person’s own body, or harmless environmental antigens, as dangerous pathogens. When this happens, your immune system kicks into action, formulating a response as it would with any other bacteria or virus.
While debates continue as to the role and importance of low-level autoimmunity in the body, high-level autoimmunity is unarguably detrimental to an individual’s continued health.
So how can science help?
By studying the workings of the immune system, research scientists are able to develop a range of new therapies, for illnesses both minor and major.
Autoimmune developments are no exception; by understanding more clearly what causes autoimmune responses in the human body, scientists are able to better formulate how these effects may be mitigated.
Because of this, immunology represents an important field when considering the advancement of our future health.
From induced tolerance using regulatory T-cells, vaccines and T-cell adoptive transfers for treatment of cancer, to cytokine based immunotherapies, we believe that immunology is leading the way in a new world of medicine and is one of the most exciting areas of research in modern science.