Thursday, December 23, 2021

Elegant Defense

Our bodies are marvels. Perhaps no part of us is as remarkable as our immune systems. We have a built-in nano-army that learns on the fly and protects us from our constantly-invading environment. Elegant Defense, An: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System is a useful book describing the elements of our immune system, how we figured it out, and where we go from here.

Though the book is from 2019 it featured someone who became quite (in?)famous only a year later: the President's chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci. His work in immunology played a prominent role in the development of our understanding of the immune system, according to the book.

One thing that stood out for me is how we are not properly training our immune systems anymore. By keeping children cleaner than they were in generations past, we are putting them at risk as they get older.

Another interesting thing is how important balance is. Our immune system is not just lethal to outside invaders, but under the right (wrong?) circumstances, can be lethal to us as well. It's such a powerful force that we are in huge trouble when it turns on us.

I also have a much improved, holisic understanding of cancer than I did before I read the book. I never quite understood how cancer can be caused by so many different things (e.g. radiation, smoking, asbestos etc). But now I understand the mechanism to be:

1) Something causes damage to our cells
2) Our cells need to subdivide quickly to grow back in number
3) Something can go wrong in that growth/subdivision
4) The greater or more prolonged the damage, the greater the chance that something goes wrong

One problem I had with the book is that the ending drags on and on. There were a few times I thought "this must be the last chapter!" but nope, there was at least another one. Other than that, I highly recommend it.

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