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Know a bit about your immune system

To help keep us well and in good working order, Nature has endowed us (and all other creatures) with an immune system. The immune system is like an army of cells with three regiments. The first regiment of cells act as guards. They are posted around our body to watch out for invasion by foreign cells such as bacteria and viruses.

If an invasion takes place, a second regiment of killer cells is conscripted and sent to the site of the invasion via the blood stream where they destroy the invaders with antibodies that they manufacture specifically for each new invader. When the battle is over, a third regiment of cells is marshalled to clean up the dead organisms and other cells that have been killed.

Know a bit about rejection and how it can be prevented

You are a unique individual (unless you have an identical twin) and every cell in your body carries a badge that says who you are. The guard cells of your immune system use this badge to know which cells are yours and which are from an outside source such as an invading organism.

If you were to be the recipient of a donor kidney from another individual, your guard cells would immediately recognise the cells of the kidney as foreign because they would be wearing the badge of the donor, not your badge. Your guard cells would detect this and immediately send out the message that there is a foreign invader. Your immune system would respond by conscripting a regiment of killer cells that are specifically programmed to destroy cells with the foreign badge and the kidney graft would die. This series of events is referred to as the rejection process.

Medical science has discovered two ways to prevent rejection of kidney transplants (and transplants of other organs such as the heart and liver).

  • First by selecting a donated organ that has cells with a badge that is closely similar to the badge of the recipient’s cells. This is referred to as tissue typing.
  • Second by suppressing the recipient’s immune system with drugs that prevent the conscription of killer cells. These are known as immunosuppressive drugs.

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