Find the fun in immunology

To build appreciation for the science of immunology, we need to find the fun in it.

Many thousands of people spend their lives in windowless laboratories, standing day in and day out, barely speaking to their silent lab mates, often working in a 4°C room, or holding their arms up for hours while they conduct their experiments inside the awkward, but sterile cell culture hood.

Why are they doing this?

They are immunologists. Immunologists address the problems of the immune system that their fellow humans have to live with, like Leukemia, AIDS, allergies and autoimmune disorders. Immunologists use biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology and genetics to look for ways to help patients and prevent disease.

So, we could simply say that these immunologists are serving their fellow man. But their motivation is not simply to help mankind. Something else drives them to spend those days in a tissue culture hood counting thousands of white blood cells.

Why did these immunologists take the lab path? Why didn’t they become social workers, firemen or even medical doctors? Well, I’ll tell you. Immunology is fun. Immunology involves watching cells identify and destroy other cells. These cells appear to be very similar to every other cell in the universe. These cells have outer membranes, nuclei, DNA and proteins that are almost indistinguishable from every other cell.

The questions are why this particular cell kills bacteria. Why doesn’t this cell kill all types of bacteria? Why does this cell in some people, not kill bacteria? The answers involve making endless comparisons between healthy and sick patients, between pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria, between humans and mice and between mice and flies.

So, Immunology is a puzzle. How does the puzzle work? We collect up as many clues as we can, we make a guess, we do an experiment and we try to figure out whether our idea was correct. We compare what we thought would happen to what did happen.

We have tools we can use. And we have rules for addressing these puzzles. We have several paths that others have taken before us that guide our way: We have biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, chemistry and physics. Each of these paths have their own rules and their own tools.

If you could jump in and try out these tools, and attempt a few of the puzzles yourself, then you would understand how immunology works. You would experience the fun! This is what we are doing with Immune Attack 2.0: we are letting you play Immunology… without the hours of standing in a windowless lab.

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3 thoughts on “Find the fun in immunology

  1. Laurie Merrill

    Please contact me about using gaming to teach the CA science standards, teambuilding, problem solving, and innovation to kids in 7th grade. I want to field test games and I want my students to give you suggestions for new games.

    Reply
  2. melanie Post author

    Hey Laurie!
    I just sent you and email saying this: Would you like to know about using Immune Attack, or do you have some other games? I would love to hear your students’ suggestions!
    And all you other readers, that goes for you, too.
    Melanie

    Mstegman at fas.org

    Reply
  3. Massimo

    Hi,
    I was like this approach to immonulogy as apuzzle!
    My son as a special attitude for puzzles (500 pieces and he is 6).
    He always tells me to look for the piece he remembers!
    And he does rember most of the pieces he goes through among the moltitude. He doesn’t get tired or bored of looking and looking again.
    I can understand the passion you have for your job.

    Reply

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