What is immunology? A simple definition would describe it as the study of how our bodies build immunity against sickness, mentioning vaccines as a tangible example. Like any natural system observed up close, this area of biology offers unexpected complexity and beauty.
Immune cells are born in the bone marrow and morph and mature over time, forming subsets and subsets of subsets with unique functions. Immune cells move through the body and embed in tissues. They’re called sentinels, or lookouts that kill infectious bacteria or viruses before they make us sick. But immune cells must also live in harmony with bacteria in the skin and the gut. They must also discern how to respond to allergens, parasites, cuts, burns and hormones. Immune cells protect us from infection and make vaccines work, but they are also behind allergies, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, many forms of cancer and other diseases.
How do they do all of this? Scientists who study the immune system, called immunologists, are trying to find out. I will do my best to interpret what they’re learning from technical lab talk into English, so you too can have a better understanding of one of the most pervasive forces in your body!