What is autoimmune disease?
When you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system does not distinguish between healthy tissue and antigens. Antigens are substances that are recognized by your body as foreign (e.g. bacteria, viruses, toxins). The normal function of the immune system is to produce protective substances, called antibodies, in response to antigens. Antibodies enable other protective responses and signal your body’s immune system to destroy the foreign invaders. If you have an autoimmune disorder, your body does not respond appropriately and sets off a reaction that destroys normal tissues.
The human immune system produces key proteins that regulate specific immune responses. The function of these proteins is to mobilize other cells or molecules in an organized way in response to antigens. These key responses and the ways in which they are mobilized are called inflammatory processes.5 In people with autoimmune disease, these proteins can fail to signal in the correct way or signal too frequently, causing chronic levels of inflammation.
Scientific understanding of various components of our immune system and the functions of these components in regulating immune responses has increased dramatically in the past two decades2. Yet there is still a lot of research needed to develop effective treatment options. Many treatment advances have already been made, or are under development, that are specifically designed with the goal of “fixing” the damaged immune system in people with autoimmune diseases.