Rogue is a Rogue is a Rogue

The more we describe the human body, the less we really understand it. The latest enigma is the immune system. It is a complex, and ever-changing ecosystem composed of many cell types that constantly interact with their environment to protect our bodies and maintain our internal equilibrium. 

Maybe soon we will be able to buy the naming rights to an immune complex.

A host of immune cells start functioning at our very beginnings, helping our body systems attain functional competence. They mature and progress to perform a number of roles such as clearing up debris, detecting signs of infection or abnormality and co-ordinating a response to these ingressions.

For over a century, researchers have been discovering new immunological entities and naming them at a rate that rivals new stars appear to astronomers. Maybe soon we will be able to buy the naming rights to our own immune complex. 

Describing what immune cells do when they are functioning effectively is easy. When researchers find a new pathway they can just give the components a host of new names and if things are working well there is little interest in understanding why. 

When things go wrong, describing is not enough.  Interpreting the range of dysfunctions when immune cells miss signals or go rogue is much more difficult.  Cancer is a century old example. Researchers have described the loss of immune control that allows cancers to develop but are yet to understand why this occurs. At best, modern interventions can target how cancers continue to block immune systems and treat patients with medications that release our immune systems from cancer control. This process, however, doesn’t address the underlying issue of why the immune system was ineffective in the first place or why and our immune systems sometimes go rogue and fight the body instead of protecting it. 

When immune systems go rogue, the results can be deadly.  For over a century, we have known about a subset disease of rogue immune cells, previously called autoimmune diseases (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis). COVID is the most recent example of inappropriate and over-activation of  immune cells leading  to the destruction of healthy tissue.

We need to move away from description of the minutiae of disease immunology and develop a more evidence-based view of how to restore appropriate immune functions to prevent disease. While prevention efforts receive much less funding because they of course don’t result in the development of marketable drugs, prevention is always the ultimate cure.

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