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Research

Immune System Complexity

At the IAS, we try to disentangle the intricacies of the immune system and use the underlying mechanisms to shed light on the dynamics of other complex systems.

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Since the origin of life 3.85 billion years ago, the innate immune system of organisms has coevolved with the environment. Only relatively recently, about 550 million ago, adaptive immunity emerged as a second line of defence. The fact that life exists at all is a direct consequence of this amazing adaptability and coevolution. The resulting immune system can be regarded as a prototypical example of a complex system. It shows self-organisation, critical transitions, emergence, path-dependency and all related signatures of complexity. At the IAS, we try to disentangle the intricacies of the immune system and use the underlying mechanisms to shed light on the dynamics of other complex systems.

The dynamic nature of the immune system enables it to constantly learn and adapt to threats of its environment, even if the environment itself is a consequence of this adaptation.

To achieve this level of versatility, the immune system employs inflammatory responses to system perturbations. Researchers from diverse backgrounds work together at IAS to analyse the effect of these ‘inflammatory responses’ in various biological and medical systems. Questions that are being addressed are: what is the role of gatekeeper molecules like alkaline phosphatase in burn wound healing? How do cytokine signals influence the development and progression of type 2 diabetes?  What role does ‘soft’ stressors like noise, pollution, and crowdedness play on physiological stress and inflammation, and what is the relation with psychological stress? How can the immune response be nudged to help improve a patient’s health? These are a few key questions sought to be answered in this research theme.

In addition to seeking answers for these fundamental questions, the team of interdisciplinary researchers at IAS strives to develop immune system-inspired computational models that can solve real world problems in non-biological fields such as national defence, business competition and cyber security.

The following research projects are directly related to this research theme:

Burn wounds

Socio-economic inequalities in health

Urban mental health

Scientific Lead

prof. dr. P.M.A. (Peter) Sloot

Faculty of Science

Informatics Institute

UvA / AMC researchers involved

Dr. V. (Vivek) Sheraton

AffilIiated external researchers

Filippo Castiglione

Senior research scientist and principal investigator at the Istituto per le Applicazioni del Calcolo "Mauro Picone" (IAC), of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), Rome. Research area: computational biology. IAS visiting fellow 2017-2018.
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