In recent months, this column has contained reviews of books dedicated to and viruses. To complement these selections, we now review a book dedicated to explaining how our immune system deals with encounters by these and other aggressors. Published earlier this year in its fourth edition, “How the Immune System Works” by Lauren Sompayrac provides readers with a detailed look at the immune system, both what is known and what is not yet known, in an easy to understand and concise style.
Sompayrac sets up the discussion as a series of lectures for students and employs symbolism that is easily relatable when describing concepts and players of the immune system, such as describing the dendritic cell as the coach of the team and T helper cells as the quarterback.
Following an overview chapter, the lectures progress through details of the immune system related to:
The remaining chapters discuss concepts related to autoimmunity (avoiding it), immunological memory and vaccines before turning to examples in which the immune system fails, such as immunodeficiency and cancer. The book contains 15 lectures.
Resembling a workbook in format and containing only 141 pages, Sompayrac does not skimp on details, discussing cell surface molecules necessary for cell-to-cell interactions, roles of various cytokines, and the concepts of up and down regulation without overwhelming readers.
Those who have always wanted to better understand the immune system or students currently enrolled in immunology courses will appreciate Sompayrac’s efforts to describe this most complex subject in a succinct and easy-to-follow manner.
“Vaccines,” the premier text about vaccines edited by Stanley A. Plotkin, Walter A. Orenstein and Paul A. Offit, is now available in the sixth edition. Published by Elsevier Saunders, this new edition has 78 chapters, 1,550 pages and references for more than 20,000 scientific papers. One of the updated features includes access to a searchable online version using a unique activation code provided inside each copy of the book. In addition, each chapter shows only 10-12 of the most pertinent references and directs users to the online version for the complete list; thereby saving incredible numbers of pages and keeping the hard copy version full of facts on each page of this already thick text.
Sections are color-coded for the first time and include:
Of special note, should you find this comprehensive primer in your hands, take a moment to read the foreward by Bill Gates and the preface by Editor in Chief, Stanley A. Plotkin; both of whom speak directly to readers. Bill reminds readers of the importance of work in this field, especially during a time when “irresponsible claims and groundless rumors” are sometimes deemed as credible as facts, and Stanley fondly recalls the birth of this text as he bids readers a heartfelt farewell; this being the final edition in which he will be an editor. As anyone who uses this reference can tell you, we owe Dr. Plotkin a tremendous amount of gratitude for leaving everyone working in the field of vaccines with this exhaustive, non-replaceable resource.
Author Nathan Wolfe is a virus hunter; he has spent his career trying to figure out ways to find the world’s newest viruses before they become a pandemic. Much like vaccines, when he and his colleagues are successful, chances are we don’t know about it.
In The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, Wolfe uses the analogy of a storm to inform readers about the historical and relevant interactions between viruses and the world. Early chapters, grouped in the section “Gathering Clouds,” address how viruses fit into the biological structure and how they move from one species to another. Wolfe discusses hunting and the domestication of animals as historical events that played important roles in allowing microbes, such as viruses, the opportunity to access and adapt to humans.
Part two of the book, “The Tempest” focused on the ability of a microbe to cause a pandemic, defined by Wolfe as an infection that has spread to all continents. Wolfe explained that the stage was set for a pandemic to occur when travel became easier, faster and more frequent, and as modern medicine increasingly saved lives using techniques that provided “bridges” for microbes to cross into other species, such as transfusions, transplants and injections.
In part three, “The Forecast,” Wolfe focused on how modern technologies help us successfully counteract these potential threats. He discussed working with hunters in secluded corners of the world to get blood samples from animals that they find dead or that they kill, and he described how cell phones and GPS technology, even Internet searches, are helping microbe hunters understand what is happening in geographic regions in real-time. He discussed the importance of understanding which microbes are beneficial and how they may be employed to protect us from harmful ones. His final chapter, “The Last Plague,” nicely synthesized how understanding the history and embracing new technologies and ideas may one day allow us to “predict and prevent pandemics.”
Did you know?
These facts along with introductions to the many types of bacteria with which we co-exist are shared in Trudy M. Wassenaar’s Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful. Recently published by Wiley-Blackwell, the goal of this book is to serve as an antidote to the negative press commonly directed at bacteria. While Wassenaar addresses some of the bacteria that pose a threat to human health, much of the book deals with aspects of bacteria that typically receive less attention. Because the book is meant for readers at various educational levels, the first few chapters address classification, reproduction and evolution, motility, and definitions of life. As Wassenaar continues, she gets into many interesting aspects of bacterial biology, including toxins, enzymes, genomics, and antibiotic resistance. Specific chapters related to marine microbiology, bacteria and their role in oil spills, bacteria and art, and extreme life provide descriptions of bacteria in unusual situations.
While the writing could be more succinct in places and offer a bit more clarity, the book provides readers with a nice compendium of what is known about bacteria and the directions research will likely move as we learn more about these creatures that live on us, in us and all around us. Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful is available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
You’ve heard of The Red Book, The Yellow Book, and The Pink Book, but do you know about The Purple Book?
The Purple Book, more formally, The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians, is written by Gary Marshall, MD. In the recently published fourth edition, the book provides clinicians with everything they need to know related to vaccines. The information is presented in two main sections:
The general principles section includes eight chapters addressing topics related to vaccine science, infrastructure, practice and recommendations, safety and schedules. Tables and figures provide excellent visuals, such as:
The diseases and vaccines chapters are organized alphabetically by pathogen, and address the following aspects of the either the disease or the vaccine:
Each chapter also includes a summary table of the vaccines available including information such as type of vaccine, composition, dosing, public and private costs and much more.
The Purple Book packs a ton of information into an easy to carry format that won’t take much room on your desk or book shelf. It will quickly become one of your “go-to” sources when a vaccine question arises. The book is available from amazon.com or directly from the publisher.
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