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New advances in our understanding of immunology

Many consider the beginning of immunology to have occurred with the observation of resistance to infection in those who had been previously exposed to variola, aka smallpox. Indeed, this phenomenon pointed toward the existence of acquired immunity. As the years passed, the understanding of immunology has grown substantially, resulting in an increased ability to modulate and enhance our immune system. This is evinced by a number of conquests against diseases over the years, including the announcement of the eradication of smallpox, in 1979, through vaccination.

Last week a new advancement in immunology was announced through research published in both New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine that has been widely publicized in media. In these articles, the researchers discuss the implementation of a new method by which they have caused remission or near remission in three patients they have treated for refractory chronic lymphoid leukemia.

This new treatment utilizes T cell, which are a type of immune cell, to act as assassins, to seek out and eradicate cancerous B cells. Though it has been only a short period after treatment, and the longevity of this therapeutic method has to be further assessed, it appears to be a promising new method by which cancer cells can be targeted. Even more exciting is the possibility that further research may open the door for the utilization of this method in the treatment of other cancers.

This announcement certainly exemplifies yet another step forward in our ability to modulate our immune system and it will interesting to see if this method will evolve to become a new therapeutic choice for the over four thousand patients that die annually in the United States as a result of this condition.

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