In order to study certain viral and bacterial infections, and to find their cure, scientists used to study antibodies, cytokines, reactive oxygen species, and other such molecules. These are all an indirect way of studying the immune system. Tracking viruses themselves is pretty outdated since there is no direct access to study them. But now they can track viruses in real time.
In order to study immune system more precisely, and accurately, the need to discover how diseases affected living cells in real time, was gravely needed. By using multiphoton microscopy in conjunction with a laser and fluorescence, a team of scientists monitored influenza virus in a mouse’s trachea in real time, translucency provided by the laser and fluorescence made imaging possible. This showed the immune system’s real time response to the influenza virus at the target location.
As you might guess, the infection played out like a miniature battle inside the rats’ bodies. The immune system’s T-cells took a while to respond, about 5 days after initial infection, but they were ruthless when they did arrive at the ‘battle-zone’, slowing down by the 7th day and mercilessly killing off infected cells.
By day 8, the T-cells were moving their army in short bursts going cell to cell in search of the enemy and killing it. This movement was pretty well organized making sure that no man is left alive.
As their movement increased they became more motile, but remained in the local area. They stayed around for a few days, fully alert to keep any possible threats at bay. The only difference, however, was the level of hostility they expressed. The cells began to calm down. By Day 14, they had completed the mission successfully and were ready for some rest. This was theoretically expected, but rarely, if at all, observed in such a manner.
The live study has already taught scientists many important lessons. A lower virus dose doesn’t automatically lead to fewer T-cells fighting back, since as a matter of fact viruses may affect an immune system’s response, but it is not dependent on the virus itself.
You may see far larger results in the future since decades of work done on molecular theory proved to be true, and completely fascinating when observed in real time visually. Real-time data could lead to more efficient treatments for viruses, triggering quicker, stronger immune system attacks, which is good news since you won’t have to blow your nose for days on end, couldn’t be a happier ending than that.