Finding the un-natural in the lab…

Taming the power of the immune system in the lab wasn’t easy. For a start, it was a mystery how we have so many different antibodies, millions at any one time. But if it’s one gene per protein, and we only had something like 30,000 genes, how could we have millions of different antibodies? Understanding this problem was the key that unlocked one way to make antibodies against targets that we select. We can use them as tools in the lab, or to treat disease—therapeutic antibodies. Chances are you may know someone who has, or is, using them; if they have Crohn’s disease for example. Just finding antibodies that stick to a target—some unique bump, crevice or corner on a virus, for example—isn’t enough. The next step is to find out if they do something useful. They may stick but not prevent infection, or not activate some receptor on a ...(Read More)

The “Dirty Little Secret”* About Vaccines

Note: This originally appeared on the SciBox section of the Oxford SciBar. Check out the site, there’s a host of podcasts of talks and other articles there.   In some ways, the immune system’s like a brain: it can learn, it can adapt and, so it’s ready for the next time, it can remember. This is, perhaps, its single most important feature. The immune system has the chance to learn a unique signature on the surface of an invader every time we’re infected by something, be it virus, bacteria or even a parasite. Once it learns these signatures the body produces antibodies or ’killer cells’ to fight it. When the infection has been defeated, special cells – B-cells – remember it, for as long as a life time. If the invader returns it won’t have such an easy time: the immune system will be ready. Like most things that learn, the ...(Read More)