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Future focus: BiteSized immunology

BiteSized Immunology is an online education resource from the British Society for Immunology (BSI) which is designed to form a comprehensive guide to the immune system, approaching the topic via punchy, easy-to-digest entries that outline major learning points.

The BiteSized audience

Our resource is aimed primarily at life sciences undergraduate students studying immunology content or for MSc students undertaking an immunology degree but it is also useful for advanced A-level students or anyone new to the subject wishing to learn about key topics. BSI BiteSized logoWe decided to develop this resource as a way of educating an ever-wider audience about immunology. This is especially important at undergraduate level as immunology is seldom a standalone BSc degree and the majority of students at this level study the subject as part of another degree, such as biomedical sciences, microbiology or biochemistry.

Digestible and accessible

Content ranges from the cells, organs and systems which form the basis of the immune system through to pathogens, disease and dysfunction and onto vaccines, therapeutics and experimental techniques. Each article is written by expert immunologists who work on that topic as part of their research and/or clinical practice. These are then further reviewed by other experts on the topic ensuring that the final article is fully accurate. All articles are reviewed regularly to ensure they are up-todate with the latest thinking and knowledge. The articles contain succinctly written yet easy to understand prose along with graphical and photographic images that further explain the topic being covered. In addition, each article has a downloadable PDF version which is ideal for further offline study, use on mobile platforms or where Wi-Fi access is limited.

This online resource is also highly accessible and easy to use. You can search by keyword, and access/ download the content in a variety of formats – as well as via graphical interface, or flexible menu system. In addition to its ease-of-use, BiteSized Immunology is made further accessible by now being available in Spanish too! Working closely with our colleagues at the Spanish Society for Immunology (SEI), and in particular their community manager and translator Jesús Gil, the articles have all been expertly translated (including the graphics). To access these simply use the drop-down option on any BiteSized page and select ‘Español’. You can return via the same method and choose English. The BSI again wishes to extend our thanks to Jesús and his colleagues at SEI for translating these articles so diligently and expertly.

Popular highlights

Thus far BiteSized Immunology has been a hugely success educational resource. Its popularity with both BSI members and nonmembers continues to grow from strength to strength. It is consistently the most popular content on the website with some of the top articles being NK cells, immune response to viruses, complement, ELISA, T cell activation and CD8+ T cells. If you are unfamiliar with the site, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular articles:

    In this article you will learn about a key test used in immunology to antibodies, antigens, proteins and glycoproteins. The multi-step test identifies the concentration of antigens in the sample. 

    “The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is an immunological assay commonly used to measure antibodies, antigens, proteins and glycoproteins in biological samples. Some examples include: diagnosis of HIV infection, pregnancy tests, and measurement of cytokines or soluble receptors in cell supernatant or serum. ELISA assays are generally carried out in 96 well plates, allowing multiple samples to be measured in a single experiment. These plates need to be special absorbent plates (e.g. NUNC Immuno plates) to ensure the antibody or antigen sticks to the surface. Each ELISA measures a specific antigen, and kits for a variety of antigens are widely available.”

    Authored by: Claire Horlock, Imperial College London, UK. Find out more here.
    In this article you will learn about the critical role the complement system plays in killing bacteria. You will learn its role in attracting immune cells and the various pathways it uses, as well as its role in inflammation. 

    “Complement was discovered by Jules Bordet as a heat-labile component of normal plasma that causes the opsonisation and killing of bacteria. The complement system refers to a series of >20 proteins, circulating in the blood and tissue fluids. Most of the proteins are normally inactive, but in response to the recognition of molecular components of microorganisms they become sequentially activated in an enzyme cascade – the activation of one protein enzymatically cleaves and activates the next protein in the cascade.”

    Authored by: Zaahira Gani, Cambridge, UK. Find out more here.
    In this article you will learn how these cells of the innate immune system are classified and how they develop. There is also a detailed explanation of how these cells function and how they target cancer cells or infected cells.

    “Natural Killer (NK) Cells are lymphocytes in the same family as T and B cells, coming from a common progenitor. However, as cells of the innate immune system, NK cells are classified as group I Innate Lymphocytes (ILCs) and respond quickly to a wide variety of pathological challenges. NK cells are best known for killing virally infected cells and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. As well as protecting against disease, specialised NK cells are also found in the placenta and may play an important role in pregnancy.”

    Authored by: Philipp Eissmann, Imperial College, London, UK. Find out more here.
    This article informs the reader about what happens to a host when it is infected with a virus. It highlights the role of T cells and other related cells in fighting viral infections along with the role of antibodies.

    “ When a virus infects a person (host), it invades the cells of its host in order to survive and replicate. Once inside, the cells of the immune system cannot ‘see’ the virus and therefore do not know that the host cell is infected. To overcome this, cells employ a system that allows them to show other cells what is inside them – they use molecules called class I major histocompatibility complex proteins (or MHC class I, for short) to display pieces of protein from inside the cell upon the cell surface. If the cell is infected with a virus, these pieces of peptide will include fragments of proteins made by the virus.”

    Authored by: Kerry Laing, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle, USA. Find out more here

Do you want to contribute?

BiteSized Immunology is an ever-evolving educational tool that has proved hugely popular on our website. As big and wide ranging as this resource is, we’re always keen to expand it ever further. This includes adding many more topics and articles to the list we already have. This can include anything from basic systems and cells to more translational topics such as therapies and experimental techniques.

Specific topics that we are currently seeking include:

  • Ebola
  • Inflammation
  • Immunity in the brain
  • Animal research

If you think you would like to contribute to this exciting project or know someone who would please don’t hesitate to contact me to talk further about your idea or proposal. 

Find out more

Eolan Healy
BSI Education & Careers Officer