A program that focuses on scientific study of the biological mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of disease, host-pathogen interactions, and host response to disease. Includes instruction in antigen and antibody structure and function, effector mechanisms, receptors, histocompatibility, host-pathogen recognition, disease modeling, autoimmune systems, antibody formation, cytotoxic responses, regulation of immune response, virulence determinants, intercellular signaling, immunosuppression, immunotherapy, immunogenetics, disease markers, transplantation, antibody humanization, and microbial pathogenesis.

Immunologists work to understand and strengthen the defensive properties of the immune system.

An organism's immune system exists to protect the body from infection, and it has an array of defensive tactics ready to combat invasive diseases. The system is made up of cells, organs, and barriers that work together to resist harmful external forces. Some of the best defenses we have are antibodies, T cells, and white blood cells - when they work like they're supposed to. Some conditions can impact the response of the immune system, making patients susceptible to irritation or infection.

Clinical immunologists work with patients whose immune systems are compromised by illness or circumstance. Some focus their work on treating allergic reactions; these specialists are known as allergists, and they diagnose, treat, and help patients to manage troubles such as breathing issues, skin problems, or chronic inflammation. Allergies, cancers, and post-surgical recoveries can all put patients at risk; immunologists need to be able to keep up with complex conditions that can attack different systems.

Work in immunology may include...

  • Treating and managing symptoms
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Diagnosing immunodeficiencies
  • Identifying the root cause of a symptom or disorder
  • Conducting research on autoimmune attacks

Most immunologists are either research scientists who work in lab settings or clinicians who work directly with patients. Clinical immunologists tend to work in hospitals or private practices, where they help patients address allergy concerns and manage immune disorders. Research labs are usually affiliated with hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical companies, or government agencies, and immunologists who work in these settings conduct experiments, ask questions, and help to develop vaccines. Environmental immunologists study immune reactions to pollutants; they may work with chemical waste facilities or forestry organizations to understand the effects of toxins or pollens. Some work with animals to treat their immune concerns, and many teach at the university level.

Becoming an immunologist is a long process that starts with a comprehensive undergraduate education. It's a good idea to focus on biology or organic chemistry and take pre-med coursework in subjects like anatomy and physics. After obtaining a Bachelor's of Science, clinically-oriented graduates must take an exam called the MCAT in order to qualify for entry to medical school. After two years of intensive study on systems, diseases, and treatments, medical students must learn in a clinical setting, working with real patients under supervision. The real in-depth immunology work begins during a graduate's residency, when they get a chance to do specialty work. After completing this training period, aspiring physicians must obtain a license to practice and usually seek certification in immunology.

Immunologists who want to conduct research typically opt for a PhD rather than an MD; this process isn't much shorter, but involves more lab work and less interaction with patients seeking treatment. Some immunologists choose to complete both programs , and they will often teach in medical school settings or act as high-level specialty care providers.

Immunologists keep our defenses functioning, and without them, we'd undoubtedly have a sicker world. If you want to join the fight, immunology could be an interesting career path.

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