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Immunology meets infotech

Blood tells.

Let's hope so, anyway. If we can just get our immune system to spill the beans, who knows. You just may be able to walk into your doctor's office five or 10 years hence, take a simple blood test, and walk out of the office with answers to questions like these (which I posed in this just-published Stanford Medicine article:

You’ve got the sniffles: Is it an allergy, or an infection? You’re getting older: Do you need a bigger dose of the annual flu shot, or is the standard one going to work just fine? You feel great: Are you cruising asymptomatically toward an autoimmune disease that will flare up five years hence, and if so, how can you prevent it?

Mark Davis, PhD, and Garry Fathman, MD, are notable immunologists. Davis unraveled the mysteries of the T-cell receptor in the 1980s, breaking the field wide open. Fathman founded FOCIS (the 40,000-member-strong Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies) almost a decade ago. And both have done their share of mouse studies in efforts to learn as much as can be learned about what makes our blood-borne bodyguards tick.

Mice are nice. But mice may have already told us much of what they can about the human immune system, as Davis notes in the article:

Having diverged from a common ancestor 60 million years ago, mice and people are — how to say this gently? — different. They’ve got four legs, we’ve got two. Their hearts beat 500 times a minute, ours 60. And their immune systems are different, too.

A few years ago, Davis and Fathman got fed up with immunology's inability to pry the human immune system from its current status as what Fathman describes as, clinically speaking, a black-box.

So they plotted out a leap forward: the three-way intersection of state-of-the-art instrumentation, cutting-edge information technology, and a take-no-prisoners, no-datum-left-behind systems-biology approach.

The fruit of their combined vision has manifested in the form of Stanford's state-of-the-art Human Immune Monitoring Center. There, every drop of immunological information that can be squeezed out of a fast-growing collection of blood samples (from ill and healthy people, both young and old) is being captured, crunched, and crowbarred into the position as a potential biomarker for predicting where your health is headed.

Previously: Surviving survival: The new Stanford Medicine magazine is out
Illustration by Patrick Hoesly

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