The immune system is a complex network in which different cell types and soluble factors interact to efficiently eliminate various kinds of microorganisms as well as aberrant cell clones. The roots of immunologic investigations reach far into the past. In 430 BC, Thucydides reported that survivors of the plague did not present a second time with similar symptoms. The first report of a successful immu- therapy was made by Edward Jenner in 1798 who found a protective effect of cowpox vaccination against human pox. Since then, much knowledge has been accumulated; today, investigations of the molecular mechanisms of immune regulation are of central research interest. The novel insights into gene polymorphisms and gene regulation gathered from this work has improved our knowledge of individual immune reactions and risk factors in overcoming infections. Strategies to use the immune system for cancer treatment have been propelled by the discovery of divergent immunoregulatory cytokines and the introduction of new gene therapy strategies to modify immune responses. Recently, the discovery of various dendritic cells has focused attention on these cell types as central elements of the immune response and to the possibility of dendritic cell expansion, maturation, and consecutive stimulation with immuno- active tumor-specific peptides. Similarly, methods for ex vivo expansion of various stem cell-derived cell types have led to an improved therapeutic management of various benign and malignant diseases.
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