Instructing the Immune System

The immune system - even an age-damaged, failing immune system - is a powerful tool. The challenge is that we don't really know how to effectively use it; vaccines, for example, are a very crude method of instruction. All this will change in the next decade or two as the biotechnology revolution rolls on, and here is an example of the sort of thing we can look forward to: "while vaccines prepare antibodies to identify an attacker, they often don't give specific instructions on exactly how to bring it down. Some antibodies may successfully hit a pathogen's weak spot, while others may miss the mark entirely. That's part of the reason why it normally takes several weeks or months for some vaccines to build up an effective immune response. Now [researchers] have developed preprogrammed chemicals that bind to antibodies and tell them how to recognize part of a pathogen, known as its epitope. In experiments, the team found that such chemicals prompted a therapeutic immune response that inhibited the growth of two types of tumors in mice. ... It's appealing as an approach. It's a way to get instant immunization as opposed to waiting for kinetics to develop T cell responses." Clinics of the not-so-distant future may well be places where our immune system is enhanced to accurately protect us from cancer, senescent cells, and a far greater range of pathogens than is presently the case.



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