Journey into Immunity

“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”
– E. E. Cummings

by Joy Howard

Cell illustrations courtesy of Bret Syfert, “Big Picture”

Are you or people you love living with allergies, autoimmune diseases, or cancer? Do you know anyone who has received an organ transplant? With immune-related issues on the rise, it seems both timely and timeless to devote a Brigham Health magazine to the immune system.

As our writers traveled deeper into the stories you’ll find here, a fuller image of the immune system emerged—beyond the binary paradigm of good vs. bad, defender vs. invader, native vs. foreign. With a nod to E. E. Cummings, beautiful answers led to more beautiful questions, and revealed the immune system as strong and fragile, telling and mysterious, friend and foe.

Every day, your immune system attempts complex juggling and balancing acts. Millions of cells play various roles including protagonists, antagonists, signal callers, bystanders, and more. And now that scientists have tools to observe single cells in real time, they know some cells can change their roles. This leads to more questions about why, and when, and how.

Experts at the Brigham and around the world are making extraordinary progress in teaching or tweaking the immune system to eliminate and prevent diseases. Still, many more beautiful answers and questions lie ahead. We hope you enjoy this travelogue of some of our journey. Let us know what you think at

Joy Howard
Managing Editor