05 December 2022

Popular about immunity

Maria Kondratova. "The invisible Guardian. How immunity protects us from external and internal threats." Review

Oksana Goryainova, "Biomolecule"

"Attention to all police officers! Danger detected. It is required to eliminate it at any cost. This is an order!". Just like a team of tough cops, our immune system also works. It protects the human body from many "criminals": viral and bacterial agents, parasites and tumor cells. What units are there in this security system and what methods of fighting enemies does it use? What happens if a well-established police system fails? Is it possible to help the defenders of our body to do their job correctly and effectively? The answers to these and many other questions can be found in the book by Maria Kondratova, published by Alpina Non-fiction publishing house.


In the new book, which was shortlisted for the Enlightener Prize in 2022, Maria talks about the principles of the immune system and the organization of the immune system, about the processes in which immune cells are involved, about medicines and new technologies that are used in the fight against various diseases.

The work of the immune system is difficult to describe briefly and clearly. Universities devote more than one course of lectures to this subject, and the number of terms and mechanisms necessary for its understanding is very large. Maria did a masterly job, presenting the basic information about immunity in a fairly concise form, without losing scientific accuracy and retaining an easy, popular style of presentation.

The immune system is considered by the author as a police organization in which there are various departments: investigative, patrol, homicide, etc. Logically, the book is divided into two parts. In the first, "Heroes" and "Villains", we get acquainted with the main characters of the book — good cops and bad guys. Good cops are cells and molecules of innate and acquired immunity that are involved in protecting our body from various antigens: viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells. Separate detailed chapters are devoted to each of these types of cells and molecules. In the second part of the book, "Scenarios and plots", based on analogies with police cinema, the approaches that the immune system uses to fight enemies and not only are described. Sometimes it attacks its own body or reacts to non-dangerous antigens, causing autoimmune diseases and allergies.

If you look for a correspondence between the sciences and popular genres of cinema, then immunology is, of course, a police movie: with chases, explosions, interceptions of intruders and other fun. Even the development of the immune response follows Hollywood scenario patterns: it all starts with the fact that a lone detective is tied up with a suspicious stranger, and ends with hundreds of police blocking the block on the ground and from the air and special forces spreading the lair of villains. Replace the patrolmen with macrophages, and the special forces with T-killers, and the general scheme of the immune response is ready. It is this action that makes immunology such a fascinating science for those who are engaged in it

In the course of the narration, the reader learns various details about the peculiarities of the work of innate and acquired immunity. Here is an incomplete list of topics considered by the author:

what is phagocytosis?;
how the complement system works;
what are antibodies for and what are they like;
what are the functions of cytokines;
what are the features of the work of dendritic cells, T cells and natural killers;
how does the immune system recognize foreign cells and molecules and why do autoimmune diseases and allergies occur?;
what do we know about the human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS, what approaches are used to combat HIV;
how the microbiome participates in the formation of immunity;
how SARS-CoV-2 affects the body and how it can be dealt with;
why does cancer occur and what are the strategies for its treatment;
and much, much more.

Maria reveals all these aspects quite deeply, while telling about them vividly and preserving the effect of dialogue with the reader throughout the book. Some details still cannot be made as digestible as possible, in which case the author honestly warns us that it will be painfully difficult now. Also at the end of the book there is a small reference book on molecular and cellular biology, where you can look and refresh your knowledge to facilitate the reading process.

A separate plus of the book is that it tells not only about immunological phenomena as such, but also about how exactly certain discoveries were made. Reading the details of scientific vicissitudes is no less fascinating than the actual immunological action movie. In the described work of scientists, one can see both examples of incredible altruism, perspicacity, resounding success and hard work, as well as failure, injustice, excessive conservatism of the scientific community, which led to the inhibition of the development of some ideas.

In addition to theoretical descriptions, the book has a practical section "Remember yourself and tell others." It tells about what to do with bacterial and viral infections, about the types of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, as well as how to avoid HIV transmission (unfortunately, this is still an urgent problem in Russia, the number of HIV-infected people in our country is more than a million).

Summarizing, we can say that the book "The Invisible Guardian" is a high—quality popular science literature in which the balance between scientific and popular is observed at the highest possible level. Thanks to the well-structured material, scientific reliability and original presentation, this book will be useful for both students and graduates of specialized universities, as well as non-core specialists who want to learn in detail about how our immune system works.

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