November 02, 2015

65: The Enemy of my Enemy


In this episode, we learn about the war going on inside our bodies every day. We generally think of our immune systems as defending us from malicious, foreign attackers. But, as always with biology, we’re finding that it’s not that simple. In some cases, an apparent foe might turn out to be a friend, and vice versa. Here we bring you three different stories about how the immune system can be outsmarted, misdirected, and even re-engineered.


Part 1: Diplomatic Immunity
Our immune system is pretty good at hunting down most viruses. But there are a handful of viruses out there that can hide from our immune system for years. The jury is still out on what effect these dormant viruses have on our health. Surprisingly, it might be the case that some of these dormant viruses, like herpes, may actually have some positive benefits. For this piece, producer Meryl Horn talks with professor J.J. Miranda of the Gladstone Institute at UCSF, who explains his innovative approach in investigating this topic.

Part 2: A Can of Worms
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, developed countries became increasingly vulnerable to rampant immune system dysfunction, with ballooning rates of allergic and autoimmune disease. Why did this happen? A popular theory is that our hyper-clean environments, and the resulting lack of regular challenge to our immune systems - such as chronic parasitic infections - are causing our immune systems to misbehave. In this episode, producer Sam Ancona Esselmann sits down with Moises Velasquez Manoff, author of An Epidemic of Absence, to explore this dramatic rise in autoimmune and allergic diseases and to discuss the caveats of controversial therapies.

Part 3: T-Cells, 2.0
One of the reasons cancer is often so difficult to treat is because cancer cells are winning an “arms race” against our natural defenses. But what if we could give our immune system a tactical advantage? In T-cell immune therapy, T-cells are removed from cancer patients and modified so that they can hunt down specific cancer markers that they were previously unable to recognize. The T-cells, which can then both recognize and kill the cancer cells, are reintroduced into the patient. In this episode, our producer Tyler Ross sits down with scientist Levi Rupp, a member of Wendell Lim's lab at UCSF, who is hacking into our immune cells to fight cancer.

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