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Glossary

Below is a list of definitions you will find mentioned in articles on our website. Click on a term below to find out more.

Scientific definition:

The adaptive immune system is one half of the two main components of the vertebrate immune system, the other being the Innate Immune System. The responsibility of adaptive immunity is to create immunological memory after the initial encounter with a pathogen. The effects of this part of the immune system is mediated through both humoral immunity, and cell-mediated immunity.

Humoral immunity works through the production of antibodies specific to a single pathogen. Upon the first encounter with a pathogen, no antibodies are present. Once the immune system adapts and remembers a pathogen, then any ensuing encounter will trigger the production of large amounts of antibodies.

The cell-mediated immunity consists of several different types of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. There are several major types of lymphocytes utilized by the adaptive immune system; they are the T cell, the B cell, and the NK cell.

The Breakdown:

The adaptive immune system is one of the most astonishing feats of biology. It is, for all intents and purposes, a sophisticated biological program. It is capable of learning and remembering the exact shape of a pathogen, whether it be a virus, a fungus, or a bacterium. Upon the first encounter with a pathogen, our adaptive immune system will examine the surface of the pathogen to look for foreign molecules. As soon as our immune system doesn’t recognize a molecule, it will start producing antibodies that are tailor-made to attack and neutralize the invading pathogen. The foreign molecule that the adaptive immune system reacts to is called the antigen.

This initial immune response can take around a few days to a week, which is why colds typically last that long, but once the immune response occurs, that specific virus or bacteria will never be able to make us sick again. That is because our adaptive immune system stores the information about the specific shape of that pathogen in memory cells for the rest of your life, and if ever that same pathogen attempts to infect us again, the immune response is exponentially faster and more powerful, killing the pathogen before we even sniffle. This is the principal by which vaccination confers immunity to an individual prior to encountering the pathogen.

Scientific definition:

Antibodies are relatively large, generally Y-shaped proteins produced by a specific type of B cell in the adaptive immune system. At the two ends of the Y, antibodies have antigen-binding sites specific to pathogens that the immune system has encountered previously. The immune system recognizes a pathogen based on a specific molecule associated with it. This specific molecule is known as the antigen.

The antibodies will bind to the surface of a bacteria or virus, and either directly kill it by physically blocking some vital biological process, or by signaling other components of the immune system that whatever they are bound to needs to be killed.

The Breakdown:

The antigen of the pathogen, whether it be a virus or bacteria, and the antigen-binding site of the antibody fit together with the precision of a lock and a key. The antigen is simply a molecule associated explicitly with a pathogen.

Antibodies also make very useful components in biological experiments in the laboratory for identifying the presence of a specific molecule. For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, antibodies can be produced by injecting animals with the antigen, and then harvesting the antibodies produced by its immune system.

Scientific definition:

Antibodies are relatively large, generally Y-shaped proteins produced by a specific type of B cell in the adaptive immune system. At the two ends of the Y, antibodies have antigen-binding sites specific to pathogens that the immune system has encountered previously. The immune system recognizes a pathogen based on a specific molecule associated with it. This specific molecule is known as the antigen.

The antibodies will bind to the surface of a bacteria or virus, and either directly kill it by physically blocking some vital biological process, or by signaling other components of the immune system that whatever they are bound to needs to be killed.

The Breakdown:

The antigen of the pathogen, whether it be a virus or bacteria, and the antigen-binding site of the antibody fit together with the precision of a lock and a key. The antigen is simply a molecule associated explicitly with a pathogen.

Antibodies also make very useful components in biological experiments in the laboratory for identifying the presence of a specific molecule. For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, antibodies can be produced by injecting animals with the antigen, and then harvesting the antibodies produced by its immune system.

Scientific definition:

Artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by a machine or program. It is characterized by the ability to accomplish tasks typically thought of as those only humans can do, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

One definition of an “intelligent agent” is one that reacts to its surroundings and alters its actions to maximize its chance of succeeding at any one or set of goals. The goal function can be defined simply, for example: 1 = win game of chess and 0 = not winning game of chess. The goal function can also be more complex such as to do things similar to what worked in the past. In the latter case, this could be considered machine learning, where a program teaches itself how to accomplish a task instead of being explicitly told how to do so. This implicit programing is vital whenever we are attempting to use AI to figure something out that we don’t already know, for example a drug for a currently untreatable disease pathology.

The Breakdown:

Advances in the field of Artificial intelligence are multiplicative, in that they benefit the field of AI research itself but also countless other fields simultaneously. In the field of biotechnology and medicine, specifically in the context of pharmaceutics and cellular pathways, the power of machine learning is revolutionary.

Over the last few decades of biological research, we have accumulated an incredible amount of knowledge, so much that we honestly have more than we can handle currently. The number of data points collected from the human genome project, now known as the field of genomics, along with the cataloging of proteins, RNA, metabolites, and lipids are vastly more than any one scientist could ever hope to remember. AI provides us with the opportunity to make use of this library of biological information.

It also helps us to understand the 3D shape of disease target molecules and either find a drug candidate that matches that shape from our vast library, or synthesize an entirely new molecule de novo, or from nothing.

Scientific definition:

On the flipside, small-molecule drugs sometimes just don’t have the size to get things done. A biologic drug is a larger molecule synthesized by a living organism or containing a component of a living organism of some sort. As such, any biological macromolecule used in pharmaceutics would be included in this definition. In many cases they are proteins, but can also be DNA- or RNA-based, or even polysaccharides or lipids.

Vaccines, blood, blood components, cells, gene therapy, tissues, recombinant proteins, and stem cells are all examples of biologics.

The Breakdown:

Biologics are more complicated molecules, but sometimes they need to be to affect an equally complex biological pathway that a small-molecule drug simply couldn’t do.

Their complexity means that, unlike a small-molecule drug, they cannot be produced by humans in the organic chemistry lab. As of yet, we have not been able to synthesize proteins artificially, outside of the cell. This can add to the production costs of a biologic drug because this means a given company would need cells to synthesize the protein, for example. Bacterial or fungal cells can work ideally for this because they can be cultured in large vats to produce large quantities of the protein all at once.

Some bacteria cells are perfect for producing proteins industrially, so scientists will genetically engineer these bacteria cells to synthesize a desired human protein, for example.

Scientific definition:

In the pharmaceutical industry there are generally two types of drugs: small molecules and biologics. The majority of drugs in the pharmaceutical industry are what is considered to be small molecules. These compounds are usually what would be considered building blocks for many larger macro molecules like sugars and proteins. So, things in simple chemical groups like alcohols, carbon rings, or single nucleotides would all fall into this categorization.

More specifically, this includes antibiotics like penicillin, antidepressants like aripiprazole (brand name Abilify) and cholesterol-lowering statins. While these are all organic compounds, they are small by comparison to a protein, for instance.

In the context of pharmacology and molecular biology, a drug is defined as being a small molecule when it is less than 900 daltons.

The Breakdown:

By virtue of being composed of few atoms, their chemical structures are simpler, making them easier to define and synthesize. This is one of the reasons that small-molecule drugs are more economical to develop and preferred by both big pharma and the FDA.

Another benefit of a small-molecule drug comes by virtue of being too small to elicit an immune response, for the same reason that sodium and glucose don’t elicit immune responses in general.

Scientific definition:

A T cell, also known as a T lymphocyte, is a specific type of white blood cell that play a key role in the adaptive immune system. They are called T cells because, although they are grown in the bone marrow like other blood cells, they mature in the thymus. T cells are characterized by the presence of T-cell receptors on their surface that are used to recognize antigens on the surface of other cells.

The Breakdown:

T cells are a part of the adaptive immune system, meaning that after every encounter with a virus or cancer cell the immune system will create T cells that specifically recognize these dangerous cells. Once created, these T cells will circulate in the body for months or even years monitoring for the return of that specific virus or cancer cell. If that happens, the T cell will kill the infected or cancerous cell and alert the rest of the immune system to the danger.

Scientific definition:

Vaccination, or immunization, is the preventative measure of artificially eliciting an adaptive immune response in our immune system. Antigenic portions of pathogens, or dead pathogens without the ability to infect, are presented into the body. The immune system reacts to the presence of these foreign molecules, known as antigens, and creates antibodies specific to them. The antibodies will recognize the pathogen itself in the future.

This results in a reduced, if not completely absent, health event if that infectious disease or pathogen ever challenges the immune system again.

The Breakdown:

In vaccination, or immunization, the immunity acquired from the process is identical to the immunity of an individual who had contracted the infectious disease and survived. The key difference is, of course, that you don’t have to contract the infection and risk illness or death to gain the immunity.

The contents of a vaccination injection are never the whole, infectious pathogen itself. It is typically either killed beforehand, or only a small part of the pathogen will be injected—just enough so that your immune system can get an ID on the pathogen and add it to its memory bank, sort of like a criminal registry used by police.

Now, if that pathogen ever tries to infect you again, your immune system is prepared with the molecular and cellular weaponry tailored specifically to fight that pathogen.