A Delicate Balance: Immunity in Health, Disease and Medicine

A Delicate Balance: Immunity in Health, Disease and Medicine

P6) A Delicate Balance: Immunity in Health, Disease and Medicine

Moderator: Wolfgang Goede
Organizer: Pete Farley

From moment to moment, our immune system maintains a remarkable state of equilibrium, a tightrope act that is vital to our survival.

On the one hand, the immune system must be vigilant, rapidly detecting infectious agents or cancerous cells, and sufficiently robust to mount a decisive defensive response against these threats. On the other, the immune response must not be so strong or indiscriminate that it catches normal cells in the crossfire, as happens in autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

For decades, scientists have sought ways to tamp down the immune response in autoimmune diseases without unduly compromising the immune system’s indispensable defensive shield. Other researchers have focused on ways to fully unleash the immune system’s power against aberrant tumor-forming cells, which has laid the foundation for the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapy.

This work has shown that the two competing demands on the immune system have intriguing consequences in the clinic: Some cancer patients successfully treated with immunotherapy have developed type 1 diabetes; conversely, some rheumatoid arthritis patients have seen their symptoms lessen after treatment with the cancer drug Gleevec.

Few scientists are better positioned than Jeffrey Bluestone to illuminate the Janus-faced nature of immunity. Renowned for his research on autoimmunity, especially as it unfolds in type 1 diabetes, Bluestone began his scientific career in cancer immunology. In 2016, he came full circle, with his appointment as president and CEO of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, an innovative consortium of six top academic cancer centers launched by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker to rapidly advance the field through collaborative research projects and clinical trials.

A masterful speaker, Bluestone will provide a sweeping view of the evolutionarily ancient and finely calibrated immune system, how it goes awry in autoimmunity, and how we are now harnessing its power and precision to fight cancer.