Immunology

In 1925, dogsledders raced through the frozen Alaskan bush to bring antiserum to the isolated village of Nome.  The antiserum arrived in time, saved the lives of many villagers from the horrors of diphtheria, and inspired the Iditarod, a famous race in celebration of the dog sledders' heroic feat. West Africa could use a similar effort today.  Richard Harris's blog at NPR has a good story about doctors' efforts to develop and use antiserum to treat Ebola.  According ... Read more

A long-sought goal in genetics has been to develop therapies that can use correctly functioning genes to replace genes with defects. If we had the technology to predictably modify our genomes, we would have the ability to cure many diseases instead of having to place people on medications for their entire lives.

For a long time, gene therapy has remained an elusive dream. But, in the past few years the dream has come closer to reality, especially in the case of ten children, who live because of researchers who kept that dream in sight (1).

... Read more

What happens when a group of streptococci stick to cells in your throat and start to make toxins? Your body fights back by making clones. i-9752f1fb3fb5563646d156bb91c1b3b7-strep.gifThe animated video, Fighting Infection by Clonal Selection, from Etsuko Uno and Drew Berry is so good that if I didn't know better, I would ... Read more
Like many people I know, I suffer from allergies, and sometimes asthma. I take drugs to control the symptoms, but they don't cure the condition. Plus, I know there can be side effects that might not be so pleasant. This is why I like hearing about sequencing projects that target the VDJ-ome. I have this fantasy about the things we could do with that information In a normal immune response (diagrammed below), antibodies on the surface of immature B cells bind to allergens (pollen, dust, whatever). That binding event, plus some help from T cells, stimulates those immature B ... Read more
Last week, while attending the ISB "DNA of Innovation" symposium in honor of Lee Hood's 70th birthday, I decided to try live-blogging for the first time. Unbeknownst to others in the audience, except my husband, I quietly typed away, collecting notes and uploading impressions. But battery power has its limits, even when I have more notes to share. And despite all the fascinating speakers, I have notes enough to describe just one more. The personal genome days have only just begun, but George Church is already looking into the future. In a true "Lee Hood style tour de force ... Read more
One of the holy grails of modern medicine is the development of a vaccine against HIV, the virus that causes AIDs. An obstacle to attaining this goal has been the difficulty in stimulating the immune system to make it produce the right kinds of antibodies. A recent finding in Science describes a gene that controls production of these antibodies and may provide insights to the development of an effective vaccine. (1). Antibodies are special kinds of proteins that bind to things, often very tightly. If they bind to the right molecules, they can prevent viruses from infecting ... Read more
It's déjà vu all over again. ... Read more
The first chapter in Arthur Allen's book "Vaccine" describes the history of smallpox vaccination in the United States. In 1721, in Boston, the prevailing belief was that to get vaccinated was to intervene with "divine providence." If you tried to protect yourself, it meant that you lacked faith
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to respond to a specific thing. Most of the vaccines we use are designed to prime the immune system so that it's ready to fight off some kind of disease, like whooping cough, polio, or influenza. Some vaccines can have more specialized functions, like stimulating the body to attack cancer cells, kill rogue autoimmune cells, or prevent pregnancy. We'll look at what they do in later posts, for now, let's look at the kinds of things that can be used as vaccines.
A long time ago, I saw a movie called "The Other Side of the Mountain." The movie told the story of Jill Kinmont, a ski racer who contracted polio and lost the use of her legs. I was sad for days for afterward, but also relieved to know that Jill Kinmont's fate wasn't going to be mine. I wasn't going to wake up in an iron lung after a ski race, and neither were my friends, because most of the children in my generation had been vaccinated against the Polio virus.
Every year people adopt pet dogs, cats, birds, and other creatures and take them to their local veterinarians for all the usual vaccinations and exams. The usual vaccinations protect your pets from diseases like rabies, distemper, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Feline Leukemia. But it's not just pets that get protected by vaccines. Agricultural creatures: fish, chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, and horses receive vaccines and increasingly, wild animals are getting vaccinated, too. ... Read more

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