Immunology is the field of medicine which studies the immune systems in living organisms. It is a broad branch of bio-science, which studies how the body uses white blood cells to fight against microbial threats from viruses and other dangerous foreign bodies. Immunologists research a wide range of diseases and issues including asthma, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and more. Modern immunologists are employed in many different sectors including at research universities, national health organizations, research labs, pharmaceutical companies, and more.
Immunological diseases can be classified in three separate groups:
Immunodeficiency: An immunodeficiency occurs when a part of the immune system does not properly fight off a virus or other foreign intruder that is harmful to the body.
Autoimmunity: Autoimmunity is when a person’s immune system attacks other parts of that person’s body. In this case, the immune system fails to recognize that the tissue, cells, or organ it is attacking is part of the body it is meant to protect.
Hypersensitivity: As the name implies, hypersensitivity is when the immune system overreacts to foreign objects, even those which do not pose a threat.
Because immunology is such a wide reaching branch of bio-research, it can be further subcategorized into specific fields of study including virology, mycology, parasitology, and infectious diseases.
Virology is the study of viruses. Specifically, virologists study how viruses are structured, classified, and how viruses infect humans and take over human cells. When a virus enters a human body, the immune system is meant to create antibodies that will destroy the dangerous virus. However, as many know, the immune system cannot stand up to all viruses. Virologists are working hard to discover ways to aid or boost the immune system so humans can lead longer and healthier lives. Some of the most well-known viral diseases include hepatitis B and C, AIDS, influenza, rabies, the common cold, and much more. Here are additional resources for further research into the field of virology:
- The Journal of Virology releases new issues regularly, containing articles on the latest research in virology.
- The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses is the ultimate resource for research into all the different types of viruses known to man.
Mycology is the study of fungi. While the study of fungi may not seem terribly important, or exciting, it is in fact an important part of immunology research. It has been reported that one quarter of humans have an immune system which is sensitive or allergic to mold (which is a fungi). Also, mycologists feel there is much that can be learned from the unique DNA makeup of fungi. Mycologist professionals work in universities, hospitals, the food industry, and more. Here are additional resources for further research in the field of mycology:
- The United States Department of Agriculture’s Mycology research website features a wide range of informative articles on fungi and its effects on biological control and agriculture.
- A Mycology fact sheet from U.C. Berkeley’s Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory offers answers to commonly asked questions on the latest in mycology news.
Parasitology is the explicit study of parasites. In regards to immunology, parasitic infections are known to attack the human immune system and sometimes can only be treated with chemotherapy. Some researchers who specialize in parasitology focus on the relationship between a host and parasite, while others dedicate their study to how parasites spread through populations. Here are additional resources for further reading on parasitology.
- An introduction to molecular parasitology and trypanosomes from the Rockefeller University.
- The History of Human Parasites from the Clinical Microbiology Reviews.
Infectious diseases are illnesses which can be passed from one person to another and are caused by an infection. These diseases can be distributed through physical contact, the air, bodily fluids, and more. Anthrax, bird flu, botulism, polio, scarlet fever, and many more are infectious diseases. Because the human immune system is designed to fight infections, infectious disease is a key branch of immunology. Here are additional resources for further research into infectious diseases.
- The University of North Carolina offers links to infectious disease research specific to HIV and STDs, global research, and more.
- The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offers a collection of links and resources for researchers studying infectious diseases.
- Oxford Journals offers an online archive of their Clinical Infectious Diseases journal since 1979.
Additional Resources on Immunology
Clinical Immunology Society: The Clinical Immunology Society’s website offers a wide range of educational resources for those interested in learning more about clinical immunology, immunology therapy, and more.
The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI): The EAACI regularly publishes immunology news, case reports, professional papers, and more.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI): The AAAAI offers educational and professional resources for doctors, practitioners, and the public on research and advancements in Immunology and Asthma research and practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO): In an effort to improve health around the world, the WHO offers a special site dedicated to immunization news, fact sheets, and additional information.