Most human diseases in the past have originated from infection by a bacteria or viruses. Such diseases are no longer a serious threat to humanity thanks to the development of vaccines, antimicrobial drugs and improved hygiene. Despite these advances, humankind today is burdened with a new dimension of chronic diseases of the immune system, such as autoimmunity, allergies, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Intriguingly, the improved medical care and hygiene appear to increase, rather than decrease, the incidence of these medical problems.
It is our belief that a significant proportion of the chronic diseases arise from aberrant interactions between the host’s immune systems with the components of the diet as well as with the commensal microbes that co-exist with the host. The genetic diversity of the commensal microbes is massive, i.e., two orders of magnitude greater than that of the host genome, and together with the large amounts of antigens in the food, the host immune system is continuously exposed to a myriad of foreign antigens.
Hence, dysregulation in host interaction with these antigens could lead to chronic stimulation of the immune system, including activation of autoreactive lymphocytes. The mechanisms involved in how the immune system co-exists peacefully with these benign antigens and microbes while maintaining its ability to respond vigorously to pathogenic microbes are largely unknown. Increasing our understanding in these areas should lead to discovery of innovative approaches for treatment of various chronic immunological diseases.
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