The immune system is composed of networks of specialized cells and organs that act together to defend the body against disease-causing organisms such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. However, abnormal immune responses also can cause disease as well as the rejection of transplanted organs, tissues, and cells.
Why Is the Study of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation a Priority for NIAID?
Diseases and conditions related to the immune system affect millions of Americans, resulting in considerable morbidity (sickness), mortality (death), pain and suffering, and medical costs. These diseases cross many clinical specialties; thus, knowledge of the immune system and its role in disease is increasingly important in the daily practice of medicine.
How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?
NIAID conducts and supports research on allergic and immunologic diseases and on the effects of transplantation on human health, both through external collaboration with outside researchers at its own specialized research laboratories.
The NIAID Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation partners with public and private institutions to explore how the immune system maintains health and, under abnormal conditions, also contributes to disorders.
Through these efforts, NIAID supports basic and clinical research to improve our understanding of the causes and mechanisms that lead to the development of immunologic diseases and to expand knowledge that can be applied to improving techniques of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Types of Immune System Disorders
NIAID supports the study, in people and animal models, of properties, interactions, and functions of the cells of the innate and adaptive immune systems (i.e., the immune system you are born with and the immunities you acquire) and the products made by those cells. This information serves as a basis for developing new clinical strategies and biotechnical applications relevant to infectious disease and to immune-mediated conditions such as allergy, asthma, autoimmune disease, and transplant rejection.
Asthma, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, and rhinosinusitis are diseases with very high prevalence in the United States and around the world. The development, history, genetics, diagnosis, management, and prevention of these conditions are important scientific research areas for NIAID. The Institute supports a wide portfolio of investigator-initiated scientific projects in basic research and clinical trials, as well as initiatives such as the Inner City Asthma Consortium, the Consortium for Food Allergy Research, the Atopic Dermatitis Research Network, the Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Centers, and the Allergen Epitope Research and Validation Centers that address major aspects of these conditions.
NIAID supports several clinical research programs on autoimmune diseases. For example, the Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence facilitate close interactions between clinicians and basic researchers to promote collaborative research on autoimmune diseases, including clinical trials of immunomodulatory therapies. Another program, the Autoimmune Disease Prevention Centers, conducts research on the development of new prevention strategies for autoimmune diseases and evaluates these approaches in pilot and clinical studies.
The goal of NIAID transplantation research is to improve the long-term success of organ, tissue, and cell transplantation by understanding the role the immune system plays in transplant success or failure. NIAID-supported investigators are working to selectively control or eliminate unwanted immune responses while maintaining the immune system's ability to fight infection and cancer. The aim is to modify the immune response in a way that will improve long-term transplant survival and reduce the need for broadly immunosuppressive medications, which can cause significant side effects.