What is Immunology?

Immunology focuses on the human body’s built-in defense system. In a healthy person, the immune system helps the body fight infection by rejecting foreign viruses and bacteria. When the immune system is defective, it can fail to protect the body, or even attack it. Diseases caused by disorders of the immune system may be caused by immunodeficiency, in which parts of the immune system fail to provide an adequate response, or autoimmunity, in which the immune system over responds, causing damage to the body of its host. Other immune disorders include hypersensitivity, in which the system responds inappropriately or too intensely to harmless compounds, as in asthma and allergies.


Carter Immunology Center (CIC) researchers study a broad variety of defective immune responses. In cancer, for example, UVA researchers have developed an immune therapy for melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer. The vaccine works by activating the human immune response to destroy cancer cells. This approach is showing great promise and is currently in phase 2 clinical trials. In diabetes, UVA researchers are working to create a way to selectively suppress the part of the immune response that acts to create inflammation that destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. In hepatitis C, CIC investigators study the mechanisms by which the virus evades or suppresses the immune response, allowing it to reestablish itself even after a liver transplant. In addition, CIC investigators are unraveling the mystery of the lethal pneumonia produced by the immune response to lung infection with avian influenza (bird flu) virus and developing new methods to prevent and treat this infection.

In Crohn’s disease, AIDS, asthma, and a host of other diseases, CIC researchers are conducting essential research that will help us better understand what causes these diseases and what makes them spread. Support for this research provides hope for millions suffering from any number of dangerous illnesses. By focusing research efforts on core immunological functions, we gain knowledge with infinite potential for curing and treating diseases as diverse as asthma, cancer, hepatitis, lupus, and AIDS.