Understanding immune system and the immunological response was difficult years ago when scientists spent their long hours peering into the microscope. But now, improved laboratories and researches have taken immunology to another level. The applications of immunology have been very impactful over the years both in modern human medicine and in the fields of biotechnology & biomedical research. In this article, we will discuss the implications of immunology in modern medicine, biotechnology & biomedical research.
What is immunology?
The study of the immunity in all organisms is what immunology offers. The immune system of our body is concerned with providing defense against pathogens or foreign invaders. It is what keeps us healthy.
How does the immune response work?
The immune system has the capability of self and non-self-recognition. An antigen is a substance that ignites the immune response. The cells involved in recognizing the antigen are Lymphocytes. Once they recognize, they secrete antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that neutralize the disease-causing microorganisms. The antibodies don’t kill the pathogens rather phagocytes are involved in it.
We have often seen the children falling sick quicker than the adults. Our immunity gets stronger as we keep growing older. Still, we find many cases of people having auto-immune diseases and many more. The study of the immune system has become important considering the health of the people.
The variations caused in human immunological health helps in understanding the risk of infectious diseases. Understanding immunology through animal and human models has not been much successful. It stands as a challenge in front of the scientists. But, research field like system immunology has been one of the strategies adopted by the scientists to have a more integrated approach in understanding the immune system. To understand the system immunology, it is important to understand its response to immune medicines.
Importance of Immunology in Modern Medicine, Biotechnology & Biomedical Research
Why is immunology so important in the modern medicine, biomedical research, and biotechnology? It’s now getting clear that the immune responses contribute to the development of many common disorders not traditionally viewed as immunologic, including metabolic, cardiovascular, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Besides, there are direct implications of the immune system in the infectious diseases (tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, pneumonia, dysentery, and helminth infestations) as well.
The decline of infectious diseases in high-income societies has been paralleled by an unprecedented emergence of allergic disorders, chronic inflammatory & autoimmune diseases, and other lifestyle diseases.
The number of people suffering from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), diabetes, respiratory diseases, mental disorders, autoimmune diseases (AID) and cancers has increased dramatically over the last three decades.
The increasing rates of these chronic systemic illnesses suggest that inflammation, caused by excessive and inappropriate innate immune system (IIS) activity, is unable to respond appropriately to danger signals that are new in the context of evolution. This leads to unresolved or chronic inflammatory activation in the body.
Modern man is exposed to an environment which has changed enormously since the time of the industrial revolution. Automation, innovation and lifestyle changes (including food-habit & stress) have made a huge impact in the last two decades or so. Consequently, more than 75% of humans do not meet the minimum requirement of the estimated necessary daily physical activity.
All these have led to the development of chronic, low-grade, inflammation-based diseases due to the constant activation of both the central stress axes and the innate immune system.
Apart from the involvement in the diseases, advancement in immunology has also led to the development of many vital laboratory techniques and tools like antibody technology, western blot, ELISA, flow cytometry, cytokine assays, fluorescence cell sorting etc.
Immunology and Antibody Technology
One way the immune system attacks foreign substances in the body is by making large numbers of antibodies. An antibody is a protein that sticks to a specific protein called an antigen. Antibodies circulate throughout the body until they find and attach to the antigen. Once attached, they can recruit other parts of the immune system to destroy the cells containing the antigen.
Researchers can design antibodies that specifically target a certain antigen, such as one found on cancer cells. They can then make many copies of that antibody in the lab. These are known as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).
Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, are secreted by B cells (plasma cells) to neutralize antigens such as bacteria and viruses. The classical representation of an antibody is a Y-shaped molecule composed of four polypeptides-two heavy chains and two light chains.
Each tip of the “Y” contains a paratope (a structure analogous to a lock) that is specific for one particular epitope (similarly analogous to a key) on an antigen, allowing these two structures to bind together with precision. The ability of binding to an antigen has led to their ubiquitous use in a variety of life science and medical science. These antibodies can be classified into two primary types (monoclonal and polyclonal) by the means in which they are created from lymphocytes. Each of them has an important role in the immune system, diagnostic exams, and treatments.
What is a Monoclonal Antibody?
A monoclonal antibody represents antibody from a single antibody-producing B cell and therefore only binds with one unique epitope. Each individual antibody in a polyclonal mixture is technically a monoclonal antibody.
What is a Polyclonal Antibody?
A polyclonal antibody represents a collection of antibodies from different B cells that recognize multiple epitopes on the same antigen. Each of these individual antibodies recognizes a unique epitope that is located on that antigen.
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Major Applications of Immunology in Modern Medicine, Biotechnology & Biomedical Research
by Ankita Murmu
We will primarily look into the major applications of immunology such as Vaccines, Immuno-suppressive Drugs, Immune Adjuvants, Monoclonal Antibodies.
Vaccines represent a major thrust of immunological research. They induce cells or molecules and control the replication of pathogen and inactivate the toxic components. Thus, they provide greater protection. Vaccines can be of many types-
- Live, attenuated vaccines like measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine are used to fight viruses
- Inactivated vaccines work in a different way than live vaccines. Polio vaccine is an example. Multiple doses are necessary in order to maintain the immunity
- Toxoid vaccines fight the bacteria that produces toxins in the body
In the field of medicines, Biotechnology is an established field. With emerging researches, application of Biotechnology has been applied to vaccines in the form of Recombinant Vaccines. These are the vaccines that are produced using Recombinant DNA technology. These vaccines contain the modified DNA having the gene for the disease agent. While the vaccine is injected, the immune response gets evoked from the host. These vaccines are specific to parts of the pathogen. The Recombinant Vaccine in use today is against Hepatitis B Virus.
Autoimmune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Myasthenia Gravis, Psoriasis are treated using immunosuppressive drugs. They are also used as anti rejecting medicine which means when a body is transplanted with an organ it prevents it from rejecting it.
They are used in combination with specific vaccine antigens and enhance the antigen-specific immune responses. Adjuvants are used with vaccines and create a local immunocompetent environment at the site of injection. It activates innate immune responses based on which adjuvants alter the quantity and quality of adaptive immune responses.
Immunotherapy uses monoclonal antibodies (MAb’s) with drugs to treat diseases like Cancer, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. The monoclonal antibodies target the receptor that is involved in the condition caused. Detection of tumors and cancers at the early stage using radiolabelled MAb’s has been possible and also targeted drug delivery. Thus, it helps in killing the target cells.
Immunohistochemical techniques have been used to detect the pathological changes of cancerous tissue. A MAb used against a specific pathogen is combined with toxins and are used as Immunotoxins in therapy. Targeted drug delivery has been possible by combining drugs with MAb’s.
For the treatment of AIDS, genetic engineering has been useful. Attaching Fc portion of antibody from mouse to human CD4 destroys the HIV infected cells. Genetic Engineers have been successful in this.
Advances have been made in the field of immunology by the introduction of biomaterials. Biomaterials interact with the biological system as therapeutic and diagnostic substance. It’s usage in transplantation purposes, surgery, drug delivery offers an immune response. Though transplants give immune responses, several complications may arise with breast, knee and hip transplants.
One of the emerging areas of Biotechnology can be Synthetic Immunology. Here Immune responses are tempered by using biologically engineered devices. Hence these devices improve the immune system or pathogenic conditions.
New dimensions are emerging because of Immunology. Understanding the immune system is broadening due to various technological advancements. The innovative implementation of immunological research has made it more efficient. Thus, the impact of immunology will suffice as a revolution to every other area of life sciences. In the near future, it is hoped to bring more advancements in the field of science.
Whatever field of biomedical science or biotechnology (medical & pharmaceutical biotechnology to be precise) you wish to pursue, concepts of immunology and hands-on experience in immunology-based techniques would be very more than handy. You will find the implications of immunology in almost all the major domains of biotechnology.
Co-Author Bio: Ankita is B.Tech. Biotechnology student at Lovely Professional University (LPU), Punjab. She comes from a land of highest tea production in India and a place known for its red rivers and blue hills – Assam.
Featured Image Source: ANU