While proofing this volume, I was impressed again by how complicated the immune system is. It seemed so very simple in high school biology! But there are so many related actions that have to happen in precise sequences, and even systems that I thought were disconnected from immunity turn out to be quite important. For instance, see the abstract of “The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity” by Gwendalyn Randolph et al.:
The lymphatic vasculature is not considered a formal part of the immune system, but it is critical to immunity. One of its major roles is in the coordination of the trafficking of antigen and immune cells. However, other roles in immunity are emerging. Lymphatic endothelial cells, for example, directly present antigen or express factors that greatly influence the local environment.
The study of immunology has progressed in recent years and is producing huge amounts of data—as I discovered in Arup K. Chakraborty’s article, “A Perspective on the Role of Computational Models in Immunology.” To make use of that data, because the processes are so complex, researchers are using computational models:
Computational or theoretical studies of the model can keep track of every possible event that can occur consistent with a hypothesis and reveal whether a particular hypothesis is plausible. Hypotheses that appear feasible at first glance can be incorrect because of the complexity of the underlying phenomena. Computational biophysics–based models not only can screen out these hypotheses prior to fruitless experimental tests, but also can shed light on the reason a hypothesis is unlikely to be right and thus guide the choice of other feasible hypotheses. Such computational studies are not exercises in fitting parameters to quantitate known mechanistic models. Rather they offer ways to obtain mechanistic insights and guide the choice of meaningful hypotheses underlying puzzling observations and the design of realistic experiments that can test the hypotheses.
Another article that caught my interest was Kole T. Roybal &Wendell A. Lim’s “Synthetic Immunology: Hacking Immune Cells to Expand Their Therapeutic Capabilities.” I was intrigued by the title’s use of “hacking” in a biomedical context and the article itself proved to be fascinating!
[I]mmune cells are relatively easy to remove, modify, and transfer back into a patient. Given these unique properties, immune cells provide a remarkable platform for interfacing with and treating disease. There are many complex diseases, such as cancer and autoimmunity, that our natural immune systems either cannot handle or pathologically contribute to. Thus, there is a strong rationale to engineer new disease sensing and response behaviors in immune cells, especially given recent powerful advances in synthetic biology and genome editing, which give us unprecedented ability to modify and engineer cellular functions.
Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne.