• Question: Have you learnt lots from studying the ability a virus has to shut down the immune system?

    Asked by Alex :) to Craig on 10 Mar 2017.
    • Photo: Craig O'Hare

      Craig O'Hare answered on 10 Mar 2017:

      In many ways viruses are better at studying and understanding the immune system than we are! Viruses need to be able to avoid the immune system in order to survive and continue to spread. Viruses have evolved ways to attack parts of the immune system to prevent an immune response being started. If a virus is attacking or switching off something in our cells, that usually teaches us a lot about how important that is to a functional immune system.

      For this reason we’ve been able to use viruses to teach us a lot about what our immune system uses to detect and switch on a response to a viral infection. The next step is figuring out how to stop viruses from interfering with the immune system by designing drugs or therapies to interfere with the virus’ attempts to shut our immune systems down.

      This is quite difficult as viruses can mutate quickly or develop new strategies to avoid our interventions. In many ways this is like an arms race between humans and viruses.