Brad doesn’t wash his hands after using the toilet and now he feels like a steaming pile of St. Bernard dump.
Chuck licked a handrail in the subway station on a $5 bet and now he’s turning green.
Pollen kicks Al in the nose every spring and Flonase doesn’t do anything to stop it.
The dirty, the allergic, and the sick are in luck, because there are specialized groups of docs who just love to figure out what germs, microbes, and viruses are doing to make people sweat, sneeze, puke, or pass out. They are called Immunologists.
Immunology is the study of…wait for it… the immune system. Have an hour and half on your hands? Check out this video. Immunologists are like mechanics, but with less grease on their hands and smaller tools. A bunch of scientists figure out how different diseases are caused, how the body responds to them, and how to fix them.
There are a few different areas immunologists can focus on. Some focus on cells. They focus on what happens when diseases strike. There is a humoral response, which has nothing to do with laughing. A humoral response is when the body releases antibodies to fight off the disease. There is also a cellular response (no ringtones necessary) where the cells fight off a disease on their own.
If the cellular stuff is not messy enough, there is always clinical immunology. The main focuses for these brainiacs are the diseases that affect the immune system. They can be immunodeficiency diseases, like AIDS, that disable the immune system and keep it from working. There are also autoimmune diseases, like diabetes, that make the immune system revolt and attack the body.
There are developmental immunologists who study the way our immune systems function as we grow. Babies don’t usually get arthritis and they often outgrow allergies. The sleuths tackling that mystery can be found in a lab near you. Look for white coats, microscopes, and lots of hand sanitizer.
Finally, there are groups of immunologists who study other animals to see if they can find anything to help humans. It’s called evolutionary immunology. Who knows, maybe alligators will help us cure AIDS, or maybe centipedes will unlock the mystery of gluten allergies. These researchers would be the ones to ask.
Whether they are in a lab, in a college classroom, or giving you back your blood tests, immunologists are keeping tabs on the unseen, unheard villains trying to kill the human race. Next time you see an immunologist on the street, give him or her a high five. Just don’t be offended if they keep their distance. In this line of work it’s easy to become a germaphobe.