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The Immune System: Your Inner Warrior

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Immunology, the study of the immune system, provides a glimpse into how your body defends you against an ever-changing realm of infectious pathogens. Using specialized cells called lymphocytes that literally re-engineer their own DNA, the immune system coordinates a physical, chemical and cellular defense against these potentially lethal invaders. Most often, your immune system works well without your knowledge; however, sometimes it attacks the body itself, leading to autoimmune diseases, or needs assistance preparing for battle, i.e. vaccinations.

This course will first introduce you to the essential parts of the immune system - the uncanny molecules, cells and organs that make it work. We will examine how immune cells communicate with each other to coordinate lethal attacks on disease-causing microbes while (mostly) avoiding harm to your body. Through discussion, review of scientific papers and in-class exercises you will develop an appreciation of how the immune system can be harnessed to prevent, even cure, infectious disease and cancer.

We'll discuss the role immunology plays in science, medicine, society, and media. Have you ever wondered why some people are afraid of vaccines? Why you may have gotten the flu this year but your best friend didn't – even though she suffers from hay fever every spring and you barely sneeze? Why some people can die within minutes if they eat peanuts or shellfish? What does it mean when someone "rejects" a lifesaving organ transplant or when a transplant actually rejects the patient? What role did a cow, a milkmaid, and an 8-year old boy have in developing a vaccine that saved hundreds of millions of lives? And did you know that an immune-mediated disease may have helped set in motion a series of historical events that led to – Shakespeare? You’ll find out the answers to these questions and more!

By the end of the course, you will understand the major components of the human immune system, the general timeline of an immune response, how immune cells and molecules react to infections, how the science of immunology has developed over time and the ways that modern medicine uses that knowledge to manipulate the immune response to save lives and improve health.

Completion of a high school biology course is required.

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