It is a very important branch of the medical and biological sciences because it studies the immune system.
The immune system protects us from infections through several lines of defense. If it is not working as it should, it can cause diseases, such as autoimmunity, allergies and cancer.
New research supports that immune responses contribute to the development of many common disorders that were not previously considered immunological, including metabolic, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
Importance of immunology
Immunology has changed the face of modern medicine. Immunological research continues to extend horizons in our understanding of how to treat important health problems, autoimmune diseases and vaccines for emerging pathogens, such as Ebola.
It has also facilitated the discovery of new diagnoses and treatments to manage a wide variety of diseases.
In addition to the advancement of technology, immunological research has provided critical research techniques and tools, such as flow cytometry and antibody technology.
What is the immune system?
It is a complex system of structures and processes that has evolved to protect us from diseases. The molecular and cellular components make up the immune system.
The function of these components is divided into non-specific mechanisms, those that are innate to an organism and receptive responses, which are adaptive to specific pathogens.
Fundamental or classical immunology involves the study of the components that make up the innate and adaptive immune system.
The first line of defense is innate immunity. That is, the answers are the same for all potential pathogens, no matter how different they are.
Innate immunity includes physical barriers (e.g., skin, saliva, etc.) and cells (e.g., macrophages, neutrophils, basophils , mast cells, etc.).
These components protect an organism during the first days of infection. In some cases, this is enough to clean the pathogen, but in other cases the first defense is overwhelmed and a second line of defense is activated.
Adaptive immunity is the second line of defense that involves accumulating the memory of the infections found in order to mount an improved response specific to the pathogen or foreign substance.
This immunity involves antibodies, which usually target foreign pathogens that roam freely in the bloodstream.
T cells are also involved, which are especially targeted towards pathogens that have colonized cells and can directly kill the infected cells or help control the antibody response.
Immunological dysfunction and clinical immunology
The immune system is a highly regulated and balanced system, and when the balance is disturbed, the disease can result.
Research in this area involves studying the disease that is caused by dysfunction of the immune system.
Much of this work is important in the development of new therapies and treatments that can manage or cure the disease by altering the way the immune system works or, in the case of vaccines, preparing it to attack specific pathogens.
Immunodeficiency disorders involve problems with the immune system that impair your ability to mount an adequate defense.
As a result, these are almost always associated with serious infections that persist, reappear and / or lead to complications, making these disorders severely debilitating and even fatal.
There are two types of immunodeficiency disorders:
- The primaries: usually present from birth, are usually hereditary and are relatively rare. Such an example is variable common immunodeficiency (CVID).
- Secondary: usually develop later in life and may be the result of an infection, as is the case of AIDS after HIV infection .
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body that it must protect.
People with autoimmune diseases have a defect that prevents them from distinguishing the “own” molecules from the “non-owned” or “strange” molecules.
The principles of immunology have provided a wide variety of laboratory tests for the detection of autoimmune diseases.
Are allergies autoimmune diseases?
Allergies are hypersensitivity disorders that occur when the body’s immune system reacts against harmless foreign substances, damaging the tissues of the body.
Almost any substance can cause allergies, but the most common is that allergies arise after eating certain types of food, such as peanuts, or inhaling substances suspended in the air, such as pollen or dust.
In allergic reactions, the body believes that allergens are dangerous and immediately produces substances to attack them.
This causes the cells of the immune system to release potent chemicals such as histamine, which causes inflammation and many of the symptoms associated with allergies.
Immunology strives to understand what happens to the body during an allergic response and the factors responsible for causing them. This should lead to better methods of diagnosis, prevention and control of allergic diseases .
Does asthma belong to autoimmune diseases?
The asthma is a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease of the airways. In general, it occurs when the immune system responds to inhaled particles in the air and can lead to a thickening of the airways in patients over time.
It is a major cause of disease and is particularly common in children. In some cases it has an allergic component, however, in several cases, the origin is more complex and little known.
How does the immune system attack cancer cells?
Cancer is a disease of abnormal and uncontrollable cell growth and proliferation and is defined by a set of characteristics, one of which is the ability of cancer cells to prevent immune destruction.
With the knowledge that evasion of the immune system can contribute to cancer, researchers have resorted to its manipulation to overcome cancer (immunotherapy).
Immunotherapy against cancer seeks to stimulate the innate powers of the immune system to fight cancerous tissue and has shown extraordinary promise as a new weapon in our arsenal against this disease.
Other applications of immunological knowledge against cancer include the use of monoclonal antibodies.
An example is Herceptin, which is a monoclonal antibody used to treat breast and stomach cancer.
What are the complications that the immune system generates in organ transplants?
Transplants involve the transfer of cells, tissues or organs from a donor to a recipient.
The most formidable barrier for transplants is the recognition of the immune system of transplanted organs as strangers.
Understanding the mechanisms and clinical characteristics of rejection is important in determining a diagnosis.
Because if the risks of a rejection are not diminished, the immune system will attack the transplanted organ, which will mean future complications that can generate a new operation or even the death of the patient.
To avoid fatalistic results, the drugs developed for the organism to accept the transplanted organs are fundamental in this type of delicate and invasive operations.
What effect do vaccines have on the immune system?
Vaccines are agents that teach the body to recognize and defend against infections caused by harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The vaccines provide an advance of a specific pathogen, which stimulates the body’s immune system to prepare itself in the event of an infection.
The vaccines contain a harmless element of the infectious agent that stimulates the immune system to mount a response, beginning with the production of antibodies.
The cells that respond to the vaccine proliferate both to make specific antibodies and to the provoking agent and also to form “memory cells”.
By finding the infectious agent a second time, these memory cells are able to deal quickly with the threat by producing sufficient amounts of antibodies. The pathogens inside the body are finally destroyed, which frustrates the infection.
Several infectious diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, tuberculosis and polio are no longer a threat in Europe due to the successful application of vaccines.