Body Wars - The immune system strikes back

24 March 2017

Body Wars

Systems Immunity scientists stage an inspiring public engagement event at Techniquest.

Our bodies are under constant siege. Every day, bacteria, viruses and parasites are trying everything they can to infect us.  It’s nice and warm inside and there is plenty to eat! Once inside, these germs can multiply and if not stopped, can make us  sick.

Luckily, we all have an immune system that has specially evolved to sense these sneaky invaders and eliminate them before they can cause harm. But often it’s actually not the germs themselves but our body’s response to infection that makes us sick!

Our immune system also helps heal injuries and control tumours but when it goes wrong it can cause allergy, chronic inflammation and reject organ transplants. In these cases, we need a little help from scientists to make new medicines to give our immune system a kick.

This Techniquest “After Hours” event featured fun and interactive talks by current and former members of the Division of Infection & Immunity and the Systems Immunity Research Institute, together with challenging laboratory workshops, a planetarium show about how the immune system fights cancer, and range of thought-provoking and creative activities on the museum floor.

Body Wars

What things can harm our body? How does our body protect us? In this fun and interactive workshop, visitors explored how germs and viruses can invade the body and how the body fights them to keep us healthy.

Molecular Detectives

From medicines to meteorites, from ancient artefacts to mobile phones, from jet engines to nanotechnology, more and more our world is being shaped by the study of crystallography. In this workshop, visitors got a chance to investigate one of the most important methods used in scientific and technological research today.

How x-ray crystallography saved your life and sent you to the Moon

Most of the cells in our body function by using molecules called ‘receptors’, which act like the eyes and ears of the cell, allowing it to sense its environment. In order to see what they look like, our scientists use X-ray protein crystallography, a technique that has played a pivotal role in: sending humans to the moon, making medicines, solving the structure of DNA, or even understanding why lobsters turn pink when you cook them!

Lectures

Stimulating talks captured the breadth of our research activities and our fascination for all basic and applied aspects of the immune system.

  • "Engaging and involving the public in research" (Dr Matthias Eberl)
  • "Multiple sclerosis: stripping the brain" (Dr Joanne Welton)
  • "The Spartan school of thymus" (Dr Raya Ahmed)
  • Could viruses be good for you?" (Dr Simone Cuff)
  • "Death by defence" (Dr Matt Morgan)
  • "When the immune system does a mistake" (Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali)
  • "Allergy myth-busting" (Dr James Hindley)
  • "Turning the pressure up on cancer" (Prof Andrew Sewell)

Acknowledgements

This event would not have been possible without the enthusiastic presenters and volunteers from across our Institute and the help from the After Hours team, Cancer Research Wales and the British Society for Immunology.

Body wars - photos

Our systems biology-based research informs the development of novel diagnostics, therapies and vaccines against some of the greatest public health threats of our time.