Autoimmune Diseases – when our body attacks itself

How does immunity work?

When we feel ill, our body is usually fighting off germs (the medical community call them pathogens). Our body does this in many different ways. Our immune system is mostly made up of white blood cells. These cells can kill pathogens by eating them, injecting them with materials that kill them or by tagging them with antibodies. These antibodies act like little flags that notify the other white blood cells that there is a pathogen in the blood and essentially marks them as targets.

What is autoimmunity?

These antibodies are great for letting other white blood cells know where the dangers are in the body, but sometimes our antibodies can get confused and end up tagging normal parts of our own body! This is how type 1 diabetes occurs. Our cells start to attack the pancreas until it doesn’t work anymore causing our blood sugar to become unregulated. When our antibodies start to attack our own body, we call them auto-antibodies. Autoimmunity is currently treated by reducing our immune system’s strength (immunosuppressant therapy).

Whilst we know what happens during autoimmunity, we largely don’t know what causes our antibodies to turn against us. Having said that, recent research has given us a clue as to what might be causing some autoimmune diseases.

Macrophage – a white blood cell that ‘eats’ pathogens

What are commensal microbes?

Commensal microbes are essentially the ‘good’ bacteria that you find in yogurts and health drinks. These help you with digestion and can actually boost your immune system.

So what was discovered?

Blood was taken from people who have a known autoimmune disease and their antibodies were tested. It was found that these patients had antibodies that were programmed to target the good commensal bacteria. It was also found that the antibodies that attacked the good bacteria also cross reacted with human tissue and then ended up attacking healthy cells.

What does this mean/where to from here?

This research has shown that one of the causes of autoimmune diseases may be due to a bad relationship between certain people’s immune system and the ‘good’ bacteria. Getting rid of the specific type of ‘good’ bacteria that causes the body to make autoantibodies may be a new type of therapy to consider for some autoimmune diseases.



Journal: Frontiers in Medicine, Volume 5,  May 2018

Authors: Peilin Zhang, Lawrence M. Minardi,  J. Todd Kuenstner, Steven M. Zekan and Rusty Kruzelock

Copyright: Open Access

Hydrogel lens

Hydrogel Technology and its cutting edge use in Medicine

What is a hydrogel?

A hydrogel is usually a synthetic material (chemically made) that contains lots of water absorbing molecules. In its common form, it looks a bit like transparent jelly.

The amazing thing about hydrogels are the number of different uses they possess. They are already used in many different parts of our lives without us realising, from helping farmers to grow their crops, to the making of beauty masks, to the absorbance properties of nappies/diapers. But in the last few years, the potential use for hydrogels in medicine has really sparked an interest in the scientific community.

So what can Hydrogels do for medicine?

Scientists have worked out that hydrogels are very biocompatible. This means that our body’s immune system doesn’t see it as threatening or cause any allergic reactions. They have also discovered how useful it can be for broken bones, drug delivery and stroke prevention:

  • Hydrogel can be used to help re-grow bones by creating a structure for stem cells to regrow soft tissue on.
  • It can be used to cause blood clots in people who are losing a lot of blood by forming a barrier. Hydrogel is so diverse that it can actually also be used as a way of delivering blood thinners into the blood to prevent clots. As hydrogel is like jelly, the blood thinning medication is released slowly as the jelly dissolves into the blood, making it a safer way to take the medicine
  • In much the same way as blood thinners, cancer medicines can be delivered into the blood steam using hydrogel for a controlled release.
  • Hydrogels are also currently used in contact lenses and even as a glue to re-attach the retina of your eye. They can also be used as part of a replacement lens after cataract surgery.

Hydrogel balls that have absorbed water


So what now?

The way in which hydrogels and our cells interact with each other is still being looked into. When re-building bones or altering our blood chemistry, our cells need to have exactly the right environment to grow and function correctly. It appears as though there are many potential uses for hydrogels in the future and lots more to be discovered for its use in medicine. Watch this space!



Journal: Bioactive Materials, Volume 3, Issue 4, August 2018

Authors: Decheng Wub , Xiaoyang Xu

Copyright: Open Access