Immune memory and the coronavirus
In partnership with the British Society for Immunology, the Centre for Inflammation Research presents a three-part animated series on the human immune system and how immune memories form in response to infections like coronavirus.
The human immune system is remarkable and complex. Typically, the memory it forms in response to infection or vaccination helps to protect us against future disease. Immunologists study the details of how it functions - research that continues to change the way we prevent and treat existing and emerging diseases.
The following three-part series is intended to provide interested non-experts and high school students with an introductory overview, in the context of SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 infection and vaccines, to how the immune system works, how immune memories form, and what happens when immune memories fade or fail to form. If something in particular sparks your interest, there are links at the bottom of the page to other resources which focus on the topics mentioned.
The animations are narrated by Professor Donald J. Davidson and produced by Dr Lana Woolford at Cloud Chamber Studios, an Edinburgh-based science animation company.
Special thanks go to the following people for translating subtitles:
- Gustavo Palacios (@ulisesnemo) - Spanish/Español
- Sandrine Prost - French/Français
- Samanta Mariani, Giulia Tagliavini and Cecilia Boz - Italian/Italiano
- Annika Frede and Clara Kunst - German/Deutsche
- Chikondi Peno and Ndaru Jambo - Chichewa/Chinyanja
Part I: Emergency response
COVID-19 changed the world in 2020. Questions around testing, vaccines, treatments, who gets ill and who doesn't - these all relate to immune memory. Part I explains how your body's immune system works and what happens when we get a viral infection like coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
- Video: Immune Memory and the Coronavirus Part I
- COVID-19 changed the world in 2020. Questions around testing, vaccines, treatments, who gets ill and who doesn't - these all relate to immune memory. Part I explains how your body's immune system works and what happens when we get a viral infection like coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
Part II: How do cells remember?
What are T and B cells? Part II explains how your immune system remembers a previous infection to protect you, and how vaccines take advantage of this.
- Video: Immune Memory and the Coronavirus Part II
- COVID-19 changed the world in 2020. Questions around testing, vaccines, treatments, who gets ill and who doesn't - these all relate to immune memory. Part II explains how your immune system remembers a previous infection to protect you, and how vaccines take advantage of this.
Part III: Why do immune systems forget?
Why does the span of immune memory change so much between different diseases and in different groups of people? Part III explains the different ways in which our immune systems can appear to 'forget'.
- Video: Immune Memory and the Coronavirus Part III
- COVID-19 changed the world in 2020. Questions around testing, vaccines, treatments, who gets ill and who doesn't - these all relate to immune memory. Part III explains why immune memory doesn't last forever, and how some diseases can evade an immune response.
COVID-19 research at CIR
The Centre for Inflammation Research specialises in researching the mechanisms and consequences of inflammation in the body, in health and illness. This research enhances our knowledge and informs the development of new diagnostic tools, treatments and preventative approaches to diseases.
Inflammation is one of the key hallmarks of the body's response to COVID-19. An effective and appropriate inflammatory response helps aid complete recovery. However, a poorly controlled, mistimed or inappropriate response can cause harm; resulting in lack of oxygen, fluid in the lungs and multiple organ failure.
Within the Centre for Inflammation Research, the STOPCOVID project aims to understand how coronavirus causes inflammation and what treatments could be used to stop a damaging response, and the ICECAP project studies what has happened to the body when a patient dies of COVID-19.
Interested? Links to other resources
These resources are all produced by external organisations using reliable, up-to-date research - produced and reviewed by experts in the field.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness in humans and animals. Seven different types have been found in people, including those responsible for the SARS, MERS and COVID-19 epidemics (SARS-CoV-2).
What happens when immune responses fail in COVID-19?
Severe COVID-19 has diverse effects that affect multiple organs of the body. The most important consequence of severe COVID-19 is a reduction in the lung’s ability to transfer oxygen from the air into the blood – leading to low blood oxygen levels (hypoxia).
The British Society for Immunology (BSI) Expert Summary Reports
What roles do the different types of immune cell have?
Supercytes is a game and learning resource which explains the roles of different immune cells in the human body. Some have unique properties, and others have many different, dynamic and overlapping roles.
How are T and B cells trained and selected?
BiteSized Immunology is a developing online resource designed to form a comprehensive guide to the immune system.
What happens during a COVID test?
Testing for COVID-19 can be informative and important for science, medicine and public health. But what does it mean for you?
How are vaccines made, and made effective?
Vaccines are made of water, the active ingredient, an adjuvant to stimulate the immune response, stabilisers, and traces of components used to make the vaccine.
Compromised immune systems: who is at higher risk?
The new coronavirus affects different people in different ways. Only a small proportion of people become seriously ill. However, to target prevention and treatment, it is important to understand who is at greatest risk of developing a serious illness or critical symptoms.
The British Society for Immunology (BSI) Expert Summary Reports
We are very grateful to our funders for making this important public resource possible.
This work was supported by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office through a Translational Clinical Studies grant (ref TCS/18/02).
Action Medical Research contributed funds to support public engagement work at the Centre for Inflammation Research (grant reference GN2703).
LifeArc provided £2m to the University of Edinburgh’s STOPCOVID project to support the development of new medicines for COVID-19.
UK Research and Innovation provided funding for the University of Edinburgh’s ICECAP project (grant reference MR/V028790/1).
Questions and requests
Do you have questions about our animated series or requests for further information? Get in touch using the link below.