A collaborative study lead by Bana Jabri at The University of Chicago was recently published in Nature that clearly highlights the importance of basic immunological research in the development of effective treatments for celiac disease1.
This disease affects millions of individuals around the world and yet there remains no cure or medicine to fight it. I could be discussing any disease: pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, etc. The point is this: we don’t truly understand most diseases, whether we have a drug to treat them or not. The drugs or treatments that might work, we don’t always understand how they work, which often leads to dangerous side effects and unforeseen cross-reactions that are difficult to treat. Needless to say a lot of questions remain to be answered regarding human disease. Among which (and probably the most important) is: what causes disease?
Most diseases are not well understood beyond the concept that it is a disease because it makes people sick. Of course, we know a lot more about disease than we did say a hundred years ago, but in the U.S. the number of new antibiotics on the market has dropped sharply over the past 30 years2 and the first FDA-approved drug for lupus (which affects between and 300,000 and 1.5 million Americans) only happened earlier this year3. There are a number of reasons for this disappointing trend including human health regulations, economics and policy. However, one major contributor may also be the lack of general understanding by the public, medical and pharmaceutical fields regarding the fundamental issues surrounding human disease. Particularly, the molecular, genetic and immunological studies that bolster our understanding and initiate new discoveries of treatments.
If you are still reading this, you clearly have some interest and desire to know more about the biology that leads to disease-which is the first step in becoming an active individual who can then educate and have intelligent discussions with your family, friends and community to help spread the knowledge and involvement of science in our daily lives. But in order to do all of this, we must escape anergy-which in immunological terms, is the state in which a T cell is sub-optimally activated and therefore unable to actively participate in the immune response. Because of this the anergic T cell is doomed to wander throughout the body quietly, doing essentially nothing. So how do you, like the T cell, become active and prepared to take on whatever health challenge comes your way?
The answer lies in the fundamental basis of this blog: to provide a second signal called co-stimulation. Co-stimulation refers to the guiding signal that T cells must receive to strengthen their ability to do all the things a powerful, active T cell can do. I hope that this blog will provide you with material that amplifies your knowledge and innate interest in helping to fight one of the biggest challenges we face: disease. The purpose of this blog is help reverse the process of anergy in our community by getting us psyched about biology behind human health issues so that we can become active members of society and engaged in furthering scientific discovery. The goal of this blog is to help bridge the gap between scientists and non-scientists by showcasing and explaining newly published research studies from the world’s top research journals so that we can, together, create and promote a world that despite disease and infection, we aren’t hospitalized because a mosquito bit us or because our insulin triggers a vicious attack on ourselves or because we ate a sandwich with whole wheat bread.
1: DePaolo, R.W., et al. “Co-adjuvant effects of retinoic acid and IL-15 induce inflammatory immunity to dietary antigens”. Nature. 471, 220-224. March 10, 2001.
2: Colson, Abigail. “Policy responses to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance: The Antibiotic Pipeline”. Extending the Cure. May 2008.
3: Jefferson, Erica. “FDA approves Benlysta to treat lupus”. F.D.A. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: FDA News Release. March 9, 2011.