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World Day of Immunology 2012

27 April 2012

Sunday, 29 April 2012, is World Day of Immunology – a time for us to acknowledge the extraordinary potential of the immunology research being undertaken right here in New Zealand and across the globe.

Immunology is a vibrant and ever-changing branch of biomedical science that deals with the study of the immune system; a complex network of tissues, cells and proteins that scientists at the Malaghan Institute believe hold the key to treating disease.

Every day we are exposed to a wide variety of infectious organisms such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. Our immune system is like our own personal defence force that is ready and waiting to fight the infections that they cause. When we are vaccinated or immunised, what we are effectively doing is providing our immune system with a detailed description of particular ‘nasties’ that could be lurking around the corner, so it defends more quickly and effectively.

What is less well known, is that our immune system can also protect us from developing non-infectious diseases such as cancer. Here the challenge is getting the immune system to really take notice of a developing cancer – something scientists at the Malaghan Institute and around the world also hope to achieve with vaccines. Unlike preventative vaccines such as the flu shot however, a cancer vaccine is given to an individual after they have already shown signs of disease.

By developing immunotherapies and vaccines that supercharge the immune systems of cancer patients, or downregulate the overactive immune responses that give rise to asthma and allergy in certain individuals, our scientists are striving to make a genuine difference to the way we treat disease in this country.

So, on World Day of Immunology, take a moment to stop and reflect on the incredible work your immune system is doing right now, beneath your skin, to keep you well. And if you decide to help it along this winter by getting a flu shot and your arm aches a bit afterwards, don’t worry, it is just your immune system’s way of saying “thanks for the heads up!”