Immunity is generally understood to mean protection from infectious disease. The greatest health achievement of this century has been the control of devastating, epidemic, infectious diseases by immunization (vaccination). Edward Jenner invented immune therapy when he inoculated an eight year old boy with scrapings of cowpox lesions. Jenner had noted the similarity of cowpox and small pox lesions, and was observant enough to notice that milkmaids, exposed to cow pox lesions on the teats of cows, did not get smallpox. Two hundred years later one major viral disease, smallpox, has been eradicated completely from the planet.
This masterful success of immunization was achieved by the World Health Organization (WHO) by the relentless vaccination of all people who came in contact with the disease, until the smallpox virus had no vulnerable hosts to infect. Diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, hepatitis, and polio are among the diseases now controlled by immunization.
The principal function of immune defense is protection against infection and invasion of the body space by foreign substances of all kinds. When we are ill with a viral infection such as a cold, we expect to get better, as a result of successful immune defense strategies. Immune defense stops infection with several subdivisions, specializing in attacking one of the many micro-organisms which threaten us - bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. Another role of the immune system is the defense against molecules which invade body space from the outside.
Immunology Notes is my notebook that contains an outline of a vast subject that grows in complexity everyday. Immunology in the broadest sense is the study of immune defences in all animals that provides insights into the evolution of defence procedures, signalling and memory systems.
There is a theoretic immunology that recognizes the complexity of immune networks that tend to create order out of chaos. I use the concept of networks to replace the misleading description - immune system. I emphasize a dynamic model of immune networks with mobile cell populations and evanescent events that are continuously evolving. Immune cell populations move through boundaries that open and close. As immune networks become more active, the migrations become more hectic and the boundaries become less secure; events tend become turbulent or chaotic.
Patients report the events that occur and can tell physicians about progression of immune mediated diseases over time. I learned a little immunology and developed a minimal understanding of allergy when I was a medical student. I learned more about the practical aspects of clinical practice using skin tests and allergy shots when I joined my first medical practice that included many allergy patients. Years later, I continued to practice skin-test allergy in my own allergy practice. My interests, views and knowledge changed in 1981 when I became ill and discovered that I was suffering form delayed patterns of food allergy. Since then, I have studied developments in immunology and continue to have a special interest in food allergy. I have written a separate book that deal with this subject in more detail but retain an outline of the concepts and concerns in this book.
The applications of immunological knowledge in treating disease have proliferated in the past decade and promise to be an increasingly important part of future medicine. Antibodies that block cytokines, for example, are now big business that offers benefits at a high price. While the applications emerge from solid science and ingenious production techniques, meddling with human immune networks is a hazardous pastime.
One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the dangers involved in immune tinkering occurred in six healthy volunteers. They were given an antibody that targeted CD 28 receptors on lymphocytes. They all promptly developed severe immune-mediated disease with multiple organ failure. The anti-CD28 antibody was developed as an activating signal, an immune system booster. In the popular imagination, boosting your immune system is a good idea. Consumers buy products, exercises, and strange devices hoping to fulfill that promise. It is fortunate the commonly advertised immune boosting strategies do not work.
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