My name is Dr. Sarah Cook and I’m a postdoc researcher at The University of California, Davis, studying the immune system.

My research looks at how a type of white blood cell known as a B cell produces antibodies, and how the B cell can mutate to change the shape of those antibodies to fight off different infections. 

The goal of this research is to understand how our immune system works so we are able to develop better treatments, including vaccines, to various diseases.

3 facts about the immune system

1. Your immune system is broadly split into two parts, known as innate and adaptive. The innate arm is more broad, quicker to respond, and keeps the invading pathogen at bay until the adaptive arm kicks in. The adaptive immune system is slower, but has the advantage of having cells that stay in your body a long time (often decades!) after the infection has been resolved. These “memory” cells remember the infection, so if you’re infected again they can quickly jump into action and get rid of the infection before it can make you sick. These memory cells are what we generate when we give vaccines!

2. B cells are special cells, because they can mutate their DNA to change the antibodies they secrete. However, mutating DNA is very risky business,so this process has to be tightly controlled. When not controlled correctly, this mutation process can lead to cancers such as lymphoma, or autoimmune diseases (where the immune system attacks the body itself and not the infection) such as lupus.

3. Allergies are caused by your immune system, in fact, it’s by a type of antibody B cells secrete known as “IgE”. The B cells see pollen, or pet dander etc, and think that this is a infection that needs to be dealt with, so they secrete antibody. Unfortunately, the pollen is not harmful, but the B cell response is, resulting in itchy eyes, runny nose and sometimes a severe reaction known as “anaphylaxis”

Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @scook1988 

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