The Scope, the Official STEMscopes Blog

STEMscopes Asks: How do Vaccines Work?

Posted by Marissa Alonzo on July 02, 2015



Vaccines are a key development in medicine because they enable us to prevent known communicable (highly contagious) diseases before people get sick, rather than just fighting the disease as it appears. While there are many different types of vaccines, they all work in the same basic way. Vaccines introduce illness-causing microbes into the body in a controlled manner in order to trigger an immune system response. The body produces antibodies that would be used to fight an actual infection, which then prepares the immune system to recognize and fight the pathogen more quickly if it appears again. This reaction boosts the immune response in the individual so that if it ever has a real encounter, the person is far less likely to get sick.

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Topics: vaccines, medicine, diseases

Lessons in Medicine from the Ganges River

Posted by Marissa Alonzo on July 01, 2015




The Ganges River, which today has a reputation for rampant pollution contrasted with a religious conception of the river as purifying, seems a strange place to look for a method of fighting disease. The river’s purifying properties turn out to have a basis in science—a basis that could also provide a powerful alternative for antibiotics, especially in light of growing concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

 The Ganges stands out from other rivers in many ways, some of which remain scientifically perplexing. For one, despite the millions of people who bathe in the river for religious ceremonies, epidemics occur far less frequently and are less severe than might reasonably be expected. Theories vary about what about the Ganges disinfects the water, but its oxygen levels are remarkably high—in fact, 25 times higher than any other river—as a result. Normally, organic material exhausts the oxygen, but it appears that something in the Ganges kills enough organic material, including bacteria, to counteract this effect despite the massive amounts of bacteria entering the river from human bathing, raw sewage, and corpses.

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Topics: medicine, ganges river, antiobiotics

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