By Adem Lewis / in , , /

The immune system is involved in nearly
every disease, so we can in medicine use the immune system to help fight things
like cancer or to help calm the immune system in things like autoimmune disease. Immunology is the study of all of those different cells whose job it is to defend us. In autoimmune disease which is what I study, that’s when that
process goes wrong and that process of attacking viruses and things has
actually turned on ourselves and they’re attacking our own body. Through immunotherapy where we reprogram cells of the immune system we aim to take
advantage of the beneficial effects of the immune system but to get rid of the
deleterious and detrimental effects that lead to asthma, allergies and autoimmune
disease. Currently what we’re doing is treating cancers with immunotherapy that
activate the entire immune system so that tends to give side effects of
autoimmune diseases and similarly for autoimmune diseases, we’re blocking the
entire immune system so that tends to make people more immune suppressed. So we want to move beyond those sort of initial wins and make more specific
therapies that target really just one piece of the immune response. The immune system develops in a way that leads to allergies in the absence of early
exposure to healthy microbes, for instance introduce peanuts early in
life and that reduces then the risk of developing peanut allergy. Currently we think there’s something in our western lifestyle in particular that is
increasing these diseases because it really is happening more in western
countries and we think that’s all related to how our immune system is
being trained and maybe increasing disease incidence. It’s pretty difficult to change the environment. You can change your diet but it’s a complex proposition
to change the diet of many people who are potentially at risk of disease so
we’re talking about, you know, primary health prevention there. We’ve been putting effort into understanding how to identify people at risk at the
earliest stage of their life and then once you’ve identified the people that
are at higher risk you can do something about it. As a community of immunologists,
we have a very good understanding of what needs to happen and really the
technologies are being applied to those questions to try to make the treatments
more specific, more broadly applicable and more used in combination, so that
they can be more effective.

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