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Studies & Degrees in Immunology



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Perhaps, one of the greatest inventions ever made by man is the vaccine. A vaccine is a preparation, usually made of living microorganisms that helps bolster the immune system to a specific disease. Chicken pox, polio, meningitis, measles, mumps and other diseases that have been plaguing man for centuries are now readily arrested by injecting the human body with small doses of the same pathogens causing these diseases. To be immune from, let’s say from chicken pox, the vaccine for chicken pox would contain also a small amount of the agent that’s causing chicken pox. This way, the immune system of the body can react to the pathogens and would remember the pathogen’s genetics signature so the next time this particular pathogen enters the body again in the future antigens have already been created by the host body thereby readily squashing these disease causing agents making one immune.

Creating vaccines to combat dreaded diseases remains the primary goal the field of Immunology aims to achieve. The field of Immunology is perhaps one of the branches of science that has saved lives by the millions. However, as much as researches in Immunology have discovered a lot of breakthroughs, but still, there are a lot of diseases that remain to have no known cure. Diseases like cancer, AIDS, lupus, among others continue to give immunologists reason to drink enormous amounts of caffeine laced drinks and extended laboratory time just to find an answer to these diseases.

Year on year, statistics show consistently that cancer remains a leading contributor on the figures of mortality rates almost anywhere in the world. Curing cancer would certainly be, not only a momentous day for the discoverer but to all humankind.

Immunology, of course, is not all about vaccines. Of course, vaccine was “immunology” back then since Edward Jenner’s first inoculation of the small pox virus in 1796. Modern Immunology now has gone beyond identifying pathogens and introducing them to the body to help antibodies remember them. Immunology now have come up with other techniques like reverse genetics, currently being applied in the development of the avian flu virus, attenuated technique, a technique used that introduces viruses to the body but without the viruses’ virulent qualities, the subunit technique, where only parts of a microorganism are introduced and from there the immune system can create a reaction, and lots of other techniques perhaps only real immunologists would only understand what they mean.

The path to become an expert in the field of Immunology is, of course, not an easy one as it is a highly specialized course. Intricate knowledge of course in the physiology of the host bodies (humans and animals) and the pathogens (the viruses, bacteria and their different strains) which in itself is an overload of information already is essential and is only the first step. After knowing the battleground, it is also imperative to know the different interactions of each pathogen to the host bodies and what particular techniques to employ when these interactions happen. Becoming an immunologist is truly in itself a big feat to accomplish; should anyone decide to become one, for sure big feats are waiting to be achieved.

Job positions for Immunology:

Toxicologist

The Center for Disease Control, the leading government agency in charge of promoting health and controlling the spread of communicable diseases in the US usually has a team of toxicologist in its payroll. Basically, a Toxicologist studies symptoms, mechanisms, treatments and detection of poison or toxins particularly in people. Toxicology is a branch of immunology that deals mainly with toxins and poisons. A number of diseases are actually caused by the toxins microorganisms emit rather than the action of the microorganism itself on its host body. In fact, some toxins whose toxicity levels have been reduced are used as vaccines but are better known as toxoids. Perhaps, the term toxoid might not be familiar to most of us but the anti-tetanus shot would probably ring a bell.

Toxicologists are not only useful to the Center for Disease Control and hospitals in general but in commercial enterprises too. Toxicology is perhaps one of those medical professionals that are not limited to a hospital or a teaching life. Cosmetics companies usually have a resident toxicologist to make sure the cosmetic products they sell do not contain toxins that would cause skin irritation to the buying public. Pharmaceutical companies would also need the services of a Toxicologist. Every year a single pharmaceutical company launches one or more drugs on the market. As a safety precaution, all new drugs need to undergo toxicity tests to avoid expensive lawsuits that may result from adverse reactions due to toxins. Perhaps the greatest need of toxicologists would be from food-based companies. Remember the great peanut butter scare in 2007 in the US? The Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter brands, both manufactured by a single company were forced to recall their products from grocery shelves due to salmonella concerns. Moreover, they had to pay lost wages and hospitalization bills of those who got affected from consuming the aforementioned peanut butter brands. Obviously, the toxicologist of ConAgra Foods, Inc. overlooked something and the result was an epidemic spanning over 39 states.

Typically, a Toxicologist’s function is to isolate, identify and quantify toxic substances on biological matters like animals and plants. A Toxicologist would also be busy doing laboratory and field experiments as it is primarily a medical research profession. Analyzing and interpreting statistical data along with some scientific literature research would be a task needed to be carried out once in a while. Documentation of research findings is a must for any practicing scientist so whatever case or research needs to be written down for future references and as well as for personal records. It is also in their job description to develop workable models to predict long term effects of chemicals/toxins within a given environment. One of the most important tasks of a Toxicologist would be to advise safe handling of toxic substances. And lastly, acts as a liaison officer with regulatory bodies in compliance with national and international regulations.

As with any other fields of specialization, before becoming a Toxicologist, a general medicine diploma is a pre-requisite. Only those with an MD are qualified to enroll in immunology courses and then make sure to indicate to have toxicology as major.

AIDS Researcher

For decades now, immunologist are working around the clock, burning the midnight oil as they say to find a cure for the dreaded disease popularly known as Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Ever since AIDS inflicted man in the 80s, the disease remains uncheck. However, it was established that whatever it is that’s causing this dreadful malady is known to attack the immune system leaving the patient defenseless against disease-causing agents thereafter. Even a simple flu virus would be fatally damaging to those afflicted by AIDS. The bad news does not stop there, that there are still no known antigen for HIV, the virus causing AIDS,
Every year new cases of AIDS and HIV positive patients are reported and rising to the rate of alarming proportions. In fact, it has been officially declared that AIDS is now a pandemic as around 30 million people worldwide have contracted HIV/AIDS.

With alarm bells ringing, humanitarian foundations, governments, big companies and philanthropists have either collectively collaborated or individually granted funds to universities and different research institutes to come up with an answer to the riddle of the century that is HIV-AIDS. Naturally, these research institutes would recruit highly specialized medical scientists to research a cure for AIDS. To qualify as an AIDS researcher, one has to be an immunologist, a pathologist, a microbiologist, an epidemiologist or a mix of any of the above. The best bet to solve the riddle, of course, would be an immunologist since AIDS is an immune system disease and the immune system is their field of specialization.

Basically, an AIDS researcher would need both HIV positive and AIDS patients to draw blood samples and tissue samples from. These samples would be then subjected to just about any known test imaginable, they would be put through cyclotrons, electron microscopes and just about any lab-testing apparatus. More or less, the Researcher should have knowledge in using modern laboratory equipments as they would be spending most of their time inside laboratories. The AIDS Researcher would also be busy extracting active ingredients from plants and animals that they would suspect that would neutralize the virulence of HIV. Like for example, ginseng, which has been used by Koreans way back for potency and vigor, can be extracted down to its active ingredient. Once the active ingredient has been isolated, the Researcher would then expose the HIV virus to this ginseng concoction and see if the virus would be killed. Apart from plant and animal extract preparations, AIDS Researchers should also be on the lookout for very healthy individuals who have very healthy immune systems.

Apart from these menial tasks (blood test, tissue sampling and all laboratory stuff), the real work of course is still hypothesis testing. As any science research all findings needs to be put into a scientific paper. All the findings, the procedures taken, the tests involved and most importantly, the conclusions reached must all be there. Good or bad the findings may be, it is important to publish whatever findings there may be as other researchers would be interested in the methodology and arguments presented.



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