In Defense of Self: How the Immune System Really Works

In Defense of Self: How the Immune System Really Works

In Defense of Self: How the Immune System Really Works

In Defense of Self: How the Immune System Really Works

Synopsis

To serve and to protect: that is the charge to our immune system. Equipped with an impressive array of genetic strategies and chemical and cellular weapons, it does just that - most of the time. Allergy, cancer, organ transplantation, AIDS, vaccines - these too are the province of our immune systems. In In Defense of Self, William Clark invites you on a whirlwind tour of your immune system. Along the way, he introduces some of most important medical advances and challenges of the past hundred years.

Excerpt

The immune system—it is the only thing standing between us and a sea of microbial predators that could send us to an early and ugly death. Our world is filled with invisible microorganisms that find the human body a delightful place to live and rear a family. Our insides are not only rent free, but warm, moist, full of nutrients, and protected from the elements. Who could ask for more?

It is the job of the immune system to make certain this invasion doesn’t happen. Oh, we do let in a few microbes that we put to work helping us digest food or process vitamins, but the vast majority of potentially disease-causing (pathogenic) microbes— bacteria, viruses, molds, and a few parasites—are kept at bay. And this same system would also be our only defense during the early hours of a bioterrorist attack, which might employ these very same microbes.

But the immune system isn’t perfect. For one thing, it prevents us from accepting potentially life-saving organ transplants. It is also capable of overreacting; turning too much force against foreign invaders, whatever the source; and causing serious—occasionally lethal—collateral damage to our tissues and organs. Worse yet, our immune systems may decide that we ourselves are foreign and begin snipping away at otherwise healthy tissues, resulting in autoimmune disease. And finally, the immune system is itself the target of one of the most deadly viruses humans have ever known: HIV, the agent of AIDS.

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