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Shantha Perera

At the Edge of Mysteries

THE JOURNEY OF THE PIONEERS OF IMMUNOLOGY FROM SMALLPOX TO COVID-19In December 2019 a new virus emerged, one that caused a global pandemic. Millions were infected. In the recesses of their fragile bodies a battle raged: between the immune system and the virus. But what is the immune system? What are its components? How do they work?

One way to understand this system, arguably the most complicated in human physiology, is by walking in the footsteps of history, one observation and experiment at a time — beginning with the first written record of the concept of immunity in 430 BCE and travelling through the ensuing centuries, which gave the world vaccines, organ transplantation, novel therapies for cancer and now the understanding and tools to tackle the pandemic virus.

An entertaining and accessible work of popular science, At the Edge of Mysteries introduces the reader to a compelling cast of characters, from Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur to the Nobel laureates of the modern day. This book glimpses into their lives and times — seeking clues to their genius and celebrating their yearning for discovery — and asks the question of what can be learned from the past in the age of global pandemics.

'A unique historical perspective on how the field of immunology developed, told in short stories that will both educate and entertain and which can be read and understood by all. A captivating read' Paul Murray, Professor of Molecular Pathology, Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, University of Birmingham

'This book should be in every university library' Neville Punchard, Professor Emeritus in Molecular Biosciences, University of East London
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    and was in good health, but two days after arriving back fell ill, developing a dry cough and chills. But he continued to work for another week before deciding to present himself at an outpatient fever clinic at his local district hospital. He complained of feverishness, chills, a persistent cough and shortness of breath. He was found to have a fever – an elevated body temperature of 39°C – and a chest X-ray showed ‘multiple patchy shadows’ in both lungs: the organs were inflamed and the alveoli, the tiny sacs where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide, were full of fluid.1 He tested positive for SARSCoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that led to the worldwide disease of Covid-19.
    He was admitted to an isolation ward, put on supplemental oxygen and given interferon alpha and two antiviral drugs. He was also prescribed an antibiotic in case he developed secondary bacterial pneumonia. As he was short of breath he was started on daily steroids to control the inflammation inside his lungs. None of these drugs were proven to be effective in treating Covid-19, but the doctors were keen to try anything to stop the progression of the disease.
    Following treatment, the patient’s temperature dropped to 36.4°C. But the cough, shortness of breath and fatigue did not improve. Worryingly, another X-ray taken 12 days after the onset of illness showed worsening lung infiltration. Surprisingly
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