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About one percent of people in industrialized countries are affected by autoimmune diseases; by now, we know more than 80 auto aggressive diseases. This large group of diseases is characterized by a misguided reaction of the immune system to the body’s own tissue. In autoimmune disease, the immune system is no longer able to differentiate between foreign structures and those of the body itself. Autoimmune diseases may appear with various symptoms and manifestations. In many cases, they resemble the symptoms of other diseases and are very difficult to diagnose and to differentiate. This tutorial provides an introduction to the functions of the immune system, the complex functional system responsible for maintaining the body’s integrity by fending off foreign bodies and continually eliminating anomalous cells. In the first part, the elementary mechanisms of immune reactions that underlie the development of autoimmune diseases are explained. The second part demonstrates the sophisticated laboratory methods that are used to perform the challenging task of diagnosing an autoimmune disease.

Learning Units of the Tutorial

Autoimmunity - an IntroductionLevel 130 min.

Our immune system is acting as a protective shield against infectious agents and microbial invaders. If this defence gets out of control and turns against the body’s own structures it may destroy healthy tissue and organs. The result is an autoimmune disease with severe or even life-threatening complications.

Autoimmune DiagnosticsLevel 140 min.

Autoimmune diseases can affect every organ in the human body. The symptoms of these diseases thus vary correspondingly. Very often, they resemble the symptoms of other diseases and are difficult to differentiate. Highly specific laboratory techniques are used to support formation of a diagnosis. These methods are described in this chapter.

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