Vaccination and Immunotherapy

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  • 0:07 Using Your Immune…
  • 0:47 Vaccination
  • 2:51 Immunotherapy
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will discuss the basics of how diseases can be prevented or treated using our own immune system's components. We'll talk about vaccination and immunotherapy as well as some specific examples, such as the BCG vaccine, monoclonal antibodies, and more.

Using Your Immune System to Help You

Sometimes we need a helping hand in life. Whether it's helping an old lady cross the street, having a teacher write a letter of recommendation, or getting a firefighter to get your little kitten off of a tall tree, we all need some help some of the time. Scientists have thankfully been able to use our body's immune system, the thing that protects us against disease, to lend us a helping hand, whether it's before or after a disease strikes us. This lesson will point out some basic examples of how vaccinations and immunotherapy help our own body use our immune system to our advantage.


One way we can help prevent the onset of disease is by way of vaccination, which is the process of using biological material to improve a person's defenses against a disease. There are many different types of vaccines you can get. Some of them you have likely heard of, such as the flu shot. Others aren't as famous, such as the BCG vaccine, which is a vaccine against tuberculosis.

Inside of a vaccine is a dead, a weak but alive, or just a little piece of some kind of disease-causing agent, such as a virus. When this weakened form of the pathogen is shot into your body, your immune system immediately recognizes that it's something harmful. This recognition forces it to build up a stronger immune system to that particular pathogen. The next time you are exposed to that pathogen in real life - exposed to the strong and real-life version of it - your immune system will be able to recognize it and fight it off far more quickly than had you not been vaccinated. In most cases you'll be able to prevent an entire disease process from occurring that may have even killed you had you not gotten vaccinated.

Now, let's pretend that you are sitting in the middle of a room with a blindfold on. In the room are a lot of people. Since you can't see them, you don't know who may be dangerous and who may be harmless. Getting a vaccine is like pulling off the wool, or blindfold, off of a person's eyes. Once the blindfold is off, you'll be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The next time the bad guys enter the room you'll know whom to defend yourself against. However, had you not been vaccinated, the blindfold would've stayed on, and the next time around people began coming into the room you would have no idea whom you should fear.


While vaccination is mainly used as a way to prevent disease, there is another way we can use our immune system to our advantage after a disease has already struck us. This is in general called immunotherapy, or the process of treating a disease by initiating, enhancing, or suppressing the immune system response to a particular disease process. For example, we can use antibodies, little proteins that are produced by your body as a response to a pathogen like a virus, in order to fight a disease.

But in certain instances we don't need to rely on our body for antibodies thanks to advances in science. Nowadays, a laboratory can manufacture monoclonal antibodies, which are copies of a single kind of antibody that bind to a very specific substance. The monoclonal antibodies can then be engineered to attach to all sorts of things, such as a cancer cell. Once it attaches to a cancer cell, depending on the type of antibody that's used, it can either cause a person's immune system to destroy the cell or block the cancer cell from growing or it may even deliver a drug attached to the antibody in order to kill the cancer cell directly.

I think that's pretty neat. I mean, this little bio-engineered antibody is like a homing pigeon that knows exactly where to fly in order to deliver a message. The message may either tell its recipient to start doing something or stop doing something or may even carry a little bomb that explodes when opened.

Monoclonal antibodies aren't the only immunosuppressive agents around; there're plenty more that we can't possibly cover in several lessons. For instance, we can use a molecule called interferon that is normally produced by cells in our body as a type of chemical messenger in order to suppress the growth of certain viruses in our body or to ramp up our immune system's response to a virus in order to try and kill it.

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