D.F. Dowd

Nearly one hundred years ago, two German scientists introduced the concept of autoimmune disease;1 it didn't catch on. Indeed, even the investigators themselves were skeptical. To most immunologists, the notion that people might develop immune reactions to their own bodies seemed counterintuitive, even preposterous. "People were very, very reluctant to accept the idea," says Noel Rose, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Autoimmune Disease Research and a long-time expert in the field.

Then, in the 1950s, two experimental models validated the autoimmune disease concept: one for thyroiditis, spearheaded by Rose, and another for lupus. In recent years, researchers have applied these models to a variety of diseases and conditions; in fact, it might have become a bit too popular. "As often happens in science, the pendulum swung the other way," says Rose. "People began to think of every disease in the book as autoimmune." Autism,...

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