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The Beautiful Cure

The Revolution in Immunology and What it Means for Your Health

By Daniel M. Davis
16-minute read
Audio available
The Beautiful Cure by Daniel M. Davis

The Beautiful Cure (2018) is an exuberant tale of how scientists have come to a deeper understanding of the human immune system – and the ways in which their discoveries will revolutionize our health. The immune system is extraordinarily complex. But if we can use our knowledge to harness its power, we may finally win the fight against diseases and illnesses like arthritis, HIV, and even cancer. 

  • Health nuts who want to understand the body’s natural defense system
  • People who have a chronic illness or know someone who has one
  • Medical students and anyone interested in human biology

Daniel M. Davis is an immunologist whose research focuses on methods of communication between immune cells. His use of microscopy to observe an immune response led to his codiscovery of immune synapses and membrane nanotubes. He is the Director of Research at the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research and the author of The Compatibility Gene. 

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The Beautiful Cure

The Revolution in Immunology and What it Means for Your Health

By Daniel M. Davis
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Beautiful Cure by Daniel M. Davis
Synopsis

The Beautiful Cure (2018) is an exuberant tale of how scientists have come to a deeper understanding of the human immune system – and the ways in which their discoveries will revolutionize our health. The immune system is extraordinarily complex. But if we can use our knowledge to harness its power, we may finally win the fight against diseases and illnesses like arthritis, HIV, and even cancer. 

Key idea 1 of 10

Vaccines trigger the body’s adaptive immune response.

In 1721, an outbreak of smallpox in Britain grew into an epidemic. This made Britain’s royal family extremely nervous – and desperate for some form of protection. They had heard of an early form of vaccination for the disease but wanted it tested before it was used on their children.

On August 9, 1721, skin and pus from smallpox patients were rubbed into small cuts made on the arms and legs of six convicts. Another convict received a sample of skin and pus up her nose. The result? After a day or two of experiencing smallpox symptoms, all the convicts recovered.

These experiments seemed to prove that immune reactions are triggered when the body detects molecules it’s never encountered before. Then, if those same molecules appear in the body again, the immune system is ready to act. 

The key message here is: Vaccines trigger the body’s adaptive immune response.

You probably already know that vaccines are vital lifesavers. But you may not have known that vaccination has preserved more human lives than almost any other service. As the smallpox story illustrates, doctors were using vaccines to help people fight disease even before they knew how vaccines worked. The actual science behind them, in fact, took a long time to discover.

Before the 1980s, scientists knew this much: two types of white blood cells, T cells and B cells, lie at the heart of immune response. On their surfaces, these cells have receptors made of long, elaborate strings of proteins that can link up with matching proteins on other molecules. This allows the cells to work together to complete various tasks. 

So, if an immune cell’s receptors connect with something alien to your body, the immune cell gets “switched on” and then kills the germ or infected cell. The immune cell also multiplies, which allows your body to “remember” germs that have been inside it before and deal with them easily. This is the process that vaccines activate, and it’s known as your adaptive immune response.

Done and dusted, right? Well, not quite. If your body had an immune response every time a new substance entered it, you’d get sick every time you ate a new food. One scientist, Charles Janeway, knew there had to be more to the story. 

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