Folklore tells us that some basic immunology may have been understood long before Jenner's discovery that intentionally infecting people with cowpox made them immune to smallpox. Some Chinese, Indian, and African cultures deliberately and successfully infected their people in order to protect them. While these techniques apparently worked, nobody really knew why. But this book provides some answers. Author Daniel Davis, a riveting storyteller, declares, “In all of human biology, the process that's been studied the most, details excavated the deepest, is the body's response to a cut or an infection.”
There is much to be learned and enjoyed in this book. The reader will encounter thought-provoking descriptions of historical research leading to an understanding of the mechanisms of the immune system. George Bernard Shaw once noted that “science can never solve one problem without raising ten more problems.” This grand tale of immunology supports Shaw's quote as it traces many paths of research that led to a clearer understanding of the immune system, often showing conflicting ideas and clashes between scientists seeking to identify the molecules that trigger immune reactions in the body. Descriptions of the step-by-step techniques used in provocative experiments follow the thoughts of scientists as they ask questions and seek answers, sometimes reaching dead ends, other times reaching new ideas, and feeling excitement from these accomplishments, despite often facing skepticism from other scientists.
When people think about human body systems, most think of the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, and several other systems, without thinking of the immune system. But there is so much to be learned about this vital system. This book's stories include the disease-fighting genetic legacy shared by insects and humans; the importance of dendritic cells in immune responses; the significant roles of pattern-recognition receptors, T cells, B cells, interferon, cytokines, hormones, hybridomas, monoclonal antibodies, metabolites, and genetic engineering; the London research carried out in a building that had appeared as a psychiatric hospital in the motion picture Batman Begins; the reasons why one type of virus can block the growth of another virus; the effects of fever on the immune system; how the immune system connects to circadian rhythms; the ways that aging affects the immune system; why vaccinations are more effective when given at a particular time of day; and the ways that the immune system is a factor in space flight. Explanations of how virus strains are selected for each year's influenza vaccines and why influenza is much worse for some people than for others are also featured. Not surprisingly, it seems that the immune system works best if we get lots of sleep, avoid stress, and stay young.
Though the immune system usually protects us, it sometimes attacks healthy cells. This can result in autoimmune conditions. Over 50 of these conditions are known, among which are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. This detailed account reveals an intense amount of research that includes the importance of the gut microbiome to autoimmunity. An interesting aside also describes a connection to the Manhattan Project.
Immunotherapy is now being intensively studied as a way of fighting cancer. Much has already been accomplished, and some people with late-stage melanoma have survived for two to 10 years beyond expectations. While there is still no cure for cancer, research involving the immune system shows great promise for someday leading to a cure.
The book is not without touches of humor, including the scientist who, like Snow White, enjoyed whistling while he worked, though his preference was for whistling opera music. Enjoy the story of the invisible gorilla. Meet the scientist who was a Playboy bunny and later named her dog as the coauthor of a research paper published in a prominent scientific journal.
Scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi once noted that the trick is “to see what everybody else has seen, but to think what nobody else has thought.” Readers will find this book, which includes over 50 pages of notes documenting text information, to be fascinating, entertaining, and superbly well written. It paints a profound picture of the intense assemblage of inquiry, reflection, experimentation, cooperation, creativity, repetition, revision, and conclusion that are vital aspects of new scientific discoveries. The book would be a valuable resource for college-level biology instructors as well as an asset for students in an immunology class.