Research on the healthy immune system
The immune system is continually in action throughout our lives and through every organ system in our bodies. Immune cells and molecules sense and eliminate potential harms in our body every day, without our knowledge. The immune system is one of only two organ systems in the body that can learn and remember, so it can recall what it has been exposed to before and make a more rapid and robust response if a particular challenge is seen again.
The human immune system can be roughly divided into innate immunity, which includes components we are born with, and adaptive immunity, components that develop and mature over time in response to exposures in our environment, including pathogens, beneficial bacteria, parasites, food, vaccines and more.
In addition to responding to and protecting us from challenges that come from the external world, the immune system also protects us from challenges that arise from within, including pre-cancerous and cancerous cells. In order to understand how the immune system goes awry in diseases such as autoimmunity and cancer, it is essential that we understand how it functions and maintains a stable, homeostatic state in healthy individuals.
By studying healthy individuals longitudinally (taking multiple blood samples from the same study volunteer over several months to years), we are gaining insights into how the immune system varies over time within a single person, how it fluctuates after being transiently perturbed by a vaccine, and how immune responses vary between individuals. This work will lead to a better and deeper definition of what a “normal” immune system is, a better understanding of immune health.
Our collaborating partners in immune health research are Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) and the University of Pennsylvania.
Through the Soundlife project, BRI researchers are recruiting healthy adult volunteers aged 25-35 or 55-65 from the Seattle area to donate blood samples. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are recruiting pediatric volunteers aged 11-13. We are following changes in the volunteers’ immune systems over the course of one or more years to better understand factors that lead to fluctuations in the immune system, such as environmental influences including seasonal variation or deliberate challenges such as a vaccine.