The Matrix of Religious Explanation Part 1/3
Meet Dr. Dennis Alexander, director of the Fairday Institute at Cambridge University, who claims that religious explanation can be used as a matrix to relate scientific realities to human nature. Part 1/3.
Laura: How should we evaluate a piece of art, a masterpiece from a great painter? Through scientific analysis of chemical components? Through aesthetic analysis and harmony of color? Or through trying to understand what the painter means by the painting? Or perhaps all three methods have something to offer.
Hello and welcome to Matter and Beyond. I’m Laura Wells. Today we will visit Dr. Dennis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute at Cambridge University, who is constantly amazed by the extraordinary nature of the human immune system. In his book Rebuilding the Matrix, he explains how religious explanation can be used as a matrix to relate scientific realities to human nature.
Please join us as we explore ourselves and the rest of nature using multiple and complimentary explanations that Dr. Dennis Alexander calls scientific, aesthetic, ethical and religious layers.
Male: Over the years, Dr. Alexander has studied an important component of the immune system, t-cells. T-cells are also known as white blood cells. Their job is to serve as an active defense against disease and infection in our bodies. They begin their work in our thymus gland where they received specific programming.
Dr. Alexander: T-cells which are the white blood cells that defend us against viruses and bacteria all have to be educated in the thymus and so they have this very strict program of education.
Male: Only a small numbers, about 1%-2%, make it through this program. While in the thymus gland, t-cells receive information about what a human cell is supposed to be like and what is supposed to be found in blood. The t-cells that do not incorporate this information are wiped out immediately.
Dr. Alexander: If you have that sort of system in our educational system, I think we would look on it as not very successful, you know, if 98% of all our undergraduates die, we wouldn’t think that was a very good system. But in the thymus, it is actually what works very well.
Male: The result is a powerful group of t-cell that can tell the difference between healthy human tissue and foreign antigens like viruses and bacteria. When these invaders enter the body, they accurately attack them and prevent serious illness.
Dr. Alexander: Its really wonderful, amazing system that it works, in a way it does work. Now once the t-cells get out in the periphery, that’s to say the bloodstream, in the spleen and the other places in the guts and so forth, then there are other mechanisms in place to keep them under control and to make sure again. Double check, so that they don’t actually start attacking your body.
Male: Sometimes the system doesn’t work the way it is supposed to and the t-cells attack the wrong thing. Even a small change in the immune system can cause the t-cells to attack something like necessary sugars in the body.
Dr. Alexander: There are mistakes made and so you get things like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and they sort of alter immune diseases and that’s where the t-cells start attacking the tissues of your body. But it’s amazing that most of the time it doesn’t happen, thankfully. And it’s all down to the thymus in a way how they educate the t-cells.
Male: But t-cells aren’t the only cells around. The human body has entire sets of different type of cells each with its own specific and detailed function within the immune system. All of these cells are able to cooperate to keep the body healthy.
Dr. Alexander: And so for example, t-cells you have helper t-cells that help the b-cells in order to develop and to make antibodies. Then you have killer the t-cells that are actually involved in wiping out viral and infected cells. and so they all coordinate together in a rather delicately controlled complex balance in order to bring about the immune response.
Male: Another component of the immune system is the k-cells, which are also called natural killer cells. B-cells and t-cells are the base for the immune system that you develop about 10-14 days after birth. K-cells on the other hand begin to act immediately following birth. Their duty is to kill any organism that does not resemble human tissue.
Dr. Alexander: And k-cells, natural killer cells, are those which are involved in the immediate reaction of the immune system to androgens once they attack your body. So the body is set up so you have an immediate response system whereby slight mobilization of an army. You can mobilize robots, your army in the first 24 hours. That’s the natural killer cells, they want to give you your immediate defense.
Male: K-cells operate in much the same way that other immune system cells do. They only kill organisms that fit a certain profile and selectively leave alone tissue that belongs in the body.
Dr. Alexander: And so thinking of it in terms of a kind of defense system is quite useful actually, but they all have to coordinate with each other to make sure the system works properly. It’s amazing, it works actually I think, remarkable.
Male: Equally intriguing though devastating to people are the glitches in the system. Just as the problem with t-cells can cause auto-immune disorders, other problems with the same cells can cause certain types of cancer. Scientists are involved in research to discover when and how these problems arise.
Dr. Alexander: We’re actually working on a mouse model of human cancer because in the acute lymphoblastic leukemias, these are lymphomas that you get when t-cells don’t stop dividing. And so if you look at all the immune cell type of cancers, they’re all very similar kind of things.
Male: Errors in the cells development can cause drastic results. Their path can be permanently altered. Instead of dying off, they can remain at a certain stage of development and multiply at the point where things went wrong. They will then clog your bloodstream which causes white blood cell leukemia.
Dr. Alexander: Basically what happens is that normally t-cells when they get DNA damage will die. And so the program that when you get any kind of DNA damage then as a trigger that happens and those cells will be wiped out by a presence call apoptosis, which is program cell death and all of us knows actually have the ability to do that.
Male: However, this doesn’t always happen. Apoptosis is prevented when certain changes occur in a gene. These changes can cause cancer. The cells with this DNA damage proliferate, the chromosomes then become unstable and more DNA damage occurs. It’s a downward spiral. Finding the mechanism that prevents the damage cells from dying off is the challenge.
Dr. Alexander: Then all kinds of things happen that then cools that cell to become a cancer cell that will carry on dividing and carry on dividing and eventually kill them all and so will kill the patient. And we’ve just recently identified one of those mechanisms whereby those cells are kept alive, naturally don’t die. And it’s a very, very subtle mechanism very tiny detail little thing happens in one particular protein in one particular stage of development of t-cells in the thymus.
The Matrix of Religious Explanation Part 1/3
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