Today, April 29, is the International Day of Immunology! With this day, we are celebrating our immune system and how important immunology (= the study of immune systems) is in the fight against infection, autoimmunity and cancer.
Scientists, writers and artists across our Lifeology community and LifeOmic’s LIFE Apps blogging community are helping you celebrate this Day of Immunology with art that educates and inspires us to think more about our immune system, especially in its current fight against COVID-19.
We’ve highlighted some of our favorite pieces below.
The immune system is an “army” in your body
The immune system, by Elfy Chiang.
In your body, you have an “army” that fights off infection, called your immune system. In this army there are many cells and proteins that fill the roles of spies, patrols (T cells!), messengers and soldiers.
Spies inside of a cell can alert patrolling T cells that viruses have entered the cell. The patrolling T cells can then send a self-destruct signal into these cells, and also send messengers to bring the solders in to eliminate infected cells.
Immune cells go to school!
Immune system school! by Signe Aasberg.
In this super simple but super cute drawing, immunologist Signe Aasberg shows us that our young immune cells must learn which threats to act upon, and which things to leave alone (including our own cells) for us to be healthy.
How do T cells (an important type of immune cell) know the difference between your own cells and an intruder?
They go to school to learn!
T cells begin their life in the bone marrow. As immature cells they move from the bone marrow to the thymus, which sits just below your throat. The thymus acts much like a school for T cells and here they learn what they should and should not recognize and respond to.
T cells learn to recognize your own cells by the proteins on their surfaces. They also learn that they shouldn’t set off an immune response when meeting these cells. The body has a very clever way of teaching your immune cells that is called positive and negative selection. The cells that recognize the right proteins receive a signal for survival. The T cells that fail to recognize the right proteins or that initiate an immune response to your own healthy cells are signaled to undergo controlled cell death.
When they are done with school, T cells graduate from the thymus and move to lymphoid organs throughout your body, ready to take on the important job of protecting you from pathogens.
Slide to discover a healthy lung versus one with ARDS
Barbara Pinho created this slide animation to show what a healthy lung looks like versus one affected by Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Complications of COVID-19 can cause ARDS.
As you move the grey slider, you can see increased inflammation leading to increased mucus production in the lungs with ARDS. When this happens, breathing becomes a difficult task. Patients under this circumstance could need the help of a ventilator.
A SARS-CoV-2 (aka coronavirus) infection typically starts when the virus enters the body by way of the nose, mouth or eyes, and infects cells in the airways. If a person’s body doesn’t quickly and calmly get rid of coronavirus particles and infected cells at this stage, the virus can spread more and destroy cells – especially the ones in the lungs that have lots of ACE2 receptors on them. As these cells are destroyed, they signal the immune system to act and fight.
The immune system is great at fighting pathogens – but it can also overreact. This overreaction can lead to enhanced inflammation in the respiratory tract. This may lead to big amounts of mucus in the airways, which then can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARSD). This is the number one threat and is usually what leads to death due to SARS-CoV-2.
You can strengthen your immune system!
Did you know that nearly every organ in your body, from your brain to your heart to your gut, participates in your immune system reaction to a threat like a virus?
When you do things that are good for your heart (like exercise) or your brain (like sleeping at least 7 hours per night), you are also helping your immune system fight smarter and stronger! But when you do things that are bad for your health, like stressing, losing sleep and eating junk (processed) foods, you may also be weakening your immune system and making it more likely to overreact and cause too much inflammation in response to an infection.
A science comic about the immune system, a comic submitted to the Lifeology SciComm comic Challenge by Anupreet, Scientipic Studio, @scientipicstudio.
Anupreet, aka Scientipic Studio, submitted this comic about the immune system in response to our Lifeology SciComm Challenge of the month for May – create your own science comic!
Have science art that communicates or celebrates something about the immune system? Let us know! E-mail us at Lifeology@lifeomic.com.