In case you hadn't yet guessed, this is a science blog largely, but not entirely, dedicated to immunology. In the time of SARS-CoV-2 (AKA COVID-19), it's more important than ever to understand how your body protects itself. I hope, through this blog, I can help you do just that.
If you're still reading, I'm going to assume that that's because you're interested, and not because you just dropped your phone (we've all been there). If I'm right, brilliant! Welcome! If I'm wrong...well, there's no accounting for taste (hope the phone's okay).
This is the first post of a new blog, which means that there is only one question I really need to cover. And it's a simple one.
What is immunology?
See, simple! In theory at least. You probably already have an idea. After all, the clue is in the name. In short, immunology is the study of the immune system, which is your own private police force that governs your body and protects you from invaders. Immunologists are the scientists who study the cells and tissues that make up that system.
And why wouldn't they?
Your immune system is amazing! It has to defend you from every unwanted bacterium, virus and parasite that you come into contact with, and it has to ensure that any and all damage that happens to you (remember that last papercut? Sorry, painful memory...) is kept clean and heals quickly. Immunologists are working to understand exactly how the immune system manages to do all of this, but it is by no means a straightforward task. The immune system is involved in regulating almost every aspect of human biology, which means that there are thousands of ways in which to approach even the most simple of questions. And that makes immunology complicated.
But why do we care?
Well, there's the obvious. If we want to help our body fight off infections, we first need to know what the immune system can, and does, do. By developing vaccines, we can immunise ourselves against those disease-causing organisms (pathogens) without ever coming into contact with them, saving ourselves from what could otherwise be a rather nasty illness. Then there's the unfortunate fact that, like us all, the immune system can make mistakes, resulting in such issues as allergy, autoimmunity and cancer. If we want to be able to treat, and perhaps one day cure, these conditions, then immunologists have their work cut out. And that's barely scratching the surface.
It's a scary world out there.
You need to be prepared.
But actually, it's okay! You can relax.
Your immune system will protect you.
Which gives you time to sit back, enjoy the video, and do a little bit of reading (this blog, not twitter, I see you).
This was one of the first videos shown to me when I first started studying immunology. It shows a neutrophil (type of white blood cell) chasing a bacterium (Staphylococcus aureus). The large dark round cells are red blood cells. This video perfectly demonstrates the unique adaptations of these immune cells in being able to track, follow, and eventually engulf, a potentially dangerous bacterium, all while ignoring the blood cells of the host.
Credit for the original video goes to David Rogers, Vanderbilt University, who recorded it in the 1950s.
This blog aims to introduce some of this knowledge to anyone who is interested in learning them. If you have any questions, general or specific, please feel free to comment. If you have any ideas for topics you'd like to learn more about, again, let me know!