An essential network of proteins, cells and organs: Our immune system defends the body against threats from the outside. Discover how cell culture studies are crucial for immunological research and the development of new immunotherapies for cancer, autoimmune diseases, infections and allergies.
The immune system is essential for our survival, guarding against harmful environmental influences to shield the body (PubMed Health Glossary). Organs, cells, and proteins act together and protect us from threatening microorganisms, viruses, or even cancer cells, while ignoring the body’s healthy structures. As long as our body’s defense is running smoothly, we do not notice it. However, dysfunctions can sometimes lead to life-threatening conditions like infections, allergies, cancer and autoimmune diseases (livescience.com). Cell culture is a potent resource for scientists trying to better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of immune responses.
Cell culture is particularly important because, apart from the nervous system, the immune system is the most complex structure in our body. Research on this topic covers a wide spectrum, from basic research on cell biology to the discovery of new vaccines (Germain, 2010) as well the development of immunotherapies for cancer, autoimmune or infectious diseases.
The innate immune system forms the first-line barrier, the rapid-response mechanism, to prevent microbial invasion. Macrophages are a key element of our innate immunity, but they can also play a role in destroying tissue and promoting diseases. This ability makes them extremely interesting for research. Macrophages show extraordinary potential for new therapeutic approaches in areas ranging from fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cancer (Wynn et al. 2013; Panni et al., 2013). Dendritic cells (DC), for example, are the most powerful antigen-presenting cells of the immune system. They are located throughout the entire body and can induce effective adaptive antigen-specific T-cell immunity as well as T-cell tolerance. DC-based therapies hold great promise in cancer vaccination (Galati and Zanotta, 2017), in the treatment of autoimmune and rheumatic diseases (Pozsgay et al., 2017; Kubach et al., 2005) as well as in boosting virus-specific immune responses (Coelho et al., 2016).
To mount an effective reaction in case of infections but also in cancer, lymphocytes have to move through the vasculature and pass the endothelial barrier to reach their target tissues (Nourshargh and Alon, 2014). Cell migration and invasion assays help scientists to better understand the pathophysiology of inflammation. Cell-based assays are advancing rapidly, and new cell culture media and reagents are helping scientists to gain better insight into the nature of immune responses.
Finally, monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies also have an increasing variety of applications in immunology. They are used, for example, to identify new peptides or proteins, or – in immunoassays as ELISAs – to measure target molecules that are playing important roles in cellular processes and cell biology such as apoptosis, cell metabolism, oncology, inflammation, immunity, infections and diseases (British Society for immunology; Lipman et al., 2005).