Master Class Immune System – Scientific American

In early 2020, as SARS-CoV-2 spread worldwide, national, regional and local politicians and health authorities held daily press conferences to explain the importance of R0 (mathematical indicator of disease infectivity pronounced “R nothing”); media experts discussed the precise definition of “herd immunity”; and face-covering social media ads promoted the concept of “viral load”. Perhaps the general public has never learned so quickly about the human immune system.

Since the discovery of COVID, scientists have raced to find out how it undermines the body’s natural defenses, to cause confusion in the lungs and other organs. Fortunately, vaccines using a new mechanism of action based on decades of immunity research have been developed in less than a year and have proven to be strong protection against the virus. Thanks to its impressive success, mRNA vaccine technology is already being tested against many other diseases, from malaria to tuberculosis.

Researchers are taking further immunological steps against many infectious diseases. Impressive advances have been made against HIV, including new ways to weaken the virus. A vaccine based on a group of viruses typically excreted in the faeces can prevent type 1 diabetes. And a controversial line of research suggests an interesting possibility that vaccination against one disease may provide protection against another.

The use of a person’s own immune system to fight disease represents a revolution in cancer treatment. Remarkable progress has been made in the last decade in manipulating key immune players, such as CAR T cells and checkpoint inhibitors for the treatment of non-solid cancer. Promising new studies train this therapy against solid tumors and combine it with protein analysis in individual patients to increase the chances that the treatment will work.

The disgusting mystery of the human immune system is why it sometimes turns against people’s own, otherwise healthy bodies. Women account for almost 80 percent of autoimmune disorders that potentially involve reproductive hormones, X chromosomes, and intestinal microflora. The answer to this conundrum most likely does not exist in one discrete line of investigation. Instead, it will require huge data sets, from genetic studies to microbiome evaluations to environmental surveys.

They were once considered independent immunological operators, but the brain and immune system now seem to work closely together, protecting each other through complex communication, and keeping records of previous pathological attackers. Illness or health depends on how well we eat, sleep and move, which increases the urgency of the need to ensure that all people have access to quality nutrition and safe communities.

The coronavirus pandemic has given unprecedented urgency to immunity research and has revealed the extraordinary defense system our bodies have developed to survive, as well as the fury of viruses, bacteria and environmental stressors that threaten us. In a time plagued not only by a deadly pathogen, but also by misinformation and uncertainty, the science of the immune system has never been so sought after and needed.

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