Current Applications And Challenges

The scope of natural immunity is vast and complicated by extraordinary diversity, redundancy, cooperation and amplification. Research to date has established the legitimacy of the field but the surge in exploration must continue if we harbour any desire to live in harmony with our immune system. Nevertheless, our increasing understanding of the mechanisms of the natural immune system and its importance for the development of a strong adaptive response has provided a strong incentive to better understand the dynamic interplay between infectious agents and host defence in man [34] and to develop new adjuvants as a component of improved vaccines. Current approaches to immune potentiation and adjuvant design combined with vaccine delivery are rapidly moving the field forward [81]. Toll-like receptors, in particular, are being targeted in vaccine development and in cancer therapy [82].

The use of the innate immune system by itself has been proposed as a biodefence strategy for protection against a broad and largely unforseen range of microbial pathogens which may be employed in bioweaponry [83,84], This could employ synthetic, conserved components of microbes recognized by the Toll-like receptors and other receptors of the innate immune system. Both prophylactic and post-exposure approaches appear to be working in animals to prevent or reduce infections.

The early suggestion of Metchnikoff to eat live bacteria to promote health has seen a dramatic rise in popularity and has developed into the field of probiotics, (eating live 'good' microbiota) and the related field, prebiotics (eating non-digestible oligosaccharides that target pathological microbiota) both with the idea of modifying the activity or composition of the endogenous microbiota [85-87], While the gut has been the main focus of this probiotic research, endogenous microbiota found in other parts of the body, (e.g. urogenital tract, skin and nasopharynx) have also attracted attention and can be expected to yield success [87],

Clearly, our understanding of the immunology of aging is of present and future economic and political importance [88] considering the current large population of aging 'baby boomers' and future increases in the proportion of older people and in the age of old people that are generally predicted to happen. Since natural immunity seems to be less affected by age than the adaptive response (Salvioli et al, this volume), the ability to manipulate the natural immune system will be needed to maintain a good quality of life in old age. With regard to natural immunity, which is heavily regulated by the environment, both external and internal, probably the most important decision an individual can make is to choose a healthy life style in order to maintain the natural and adaptive immune systems for a long, high quality life.

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