The immune system plays a vital role in protecting us from infections. However, when the immune system malfunctions it can lead to a number of common diseases such as type 1 diabetes, asthma and allergies, or it can allow the growth and spread of lethal cancer cells.
Immune diseases are a major source of ill health within our community. The term immune disease covers a large number of diseases. Examples include asthma, type 1 diabetes and allergies. Most of these diseases are increasing in their frequency and are occurring at younger and younger ages. They are a growing cause of childhood disability.
Scientists know that environmental factors are the major influence in these diseases, which are rare in the third world. We need to find out which aspects of our lifestyle are the problems - there are hundreds of possibilities.
Scientists at the Centenary institute are attacking this question from the other end by asking "What are the basic problems in the immune system that lead to those diseases?" If they can answer that question they believe that it will be possible to work out what the environmental factors are that influence these immune processes.
Other scientists at the Centenary institute are working to understand why the body fails to recognise cancer cells as dangerous and therefore does not trigger an immune response.
One group at the Centenary institute is using new technology to create images and even movies of the body's immune response working in real time. This remarkable new process will provide scientists around the world with unprecedented insight to processes in the body that they could previously only guess at.
The other group working on the immune response to cancer is seeking to understand why a natural process which is essential for effective immune responses occasionally targets the wrong genes and causes cancer. This process is implicated in the majority of adult B cell lymphomas and leukaemia's.
With 1 in 2 Australians affected by cancer it is hoped that research at the Centenary Institute will lead to a new understanding of the body's immune system that affect the recognition and destruction of tumour cells. It is our goal to one day use this knowledge to create new treatments for cancer.
For more information on the Centenary's work on immunity, visit: