The immune system is a mysterious thing. Protective overall, and yet sometimes it backfires. A dramatic illustration of the immune system going wrong was the TGN1412 disaster: six young men given a monoclonal antibody in a clinical trial ended up in ICU with multiple organ failure. One is now showing signs of an aggressive cancer.
Less dramatic, but more aggravating to more people on a more regular basis, are your run-of-the-mill allergies. Almost everyone I know is allergic to something: peanuts, cats, dust, pineapple. I personally have some mild allergies to some animals, but a major reaction to dust mites. When I got an allergy skin test, the swelling that appeared in response to dust mites moved beyond the realm of a few millimetres, which they usually measure, and looked disturbingly like a fat worm under my skin.
It’s bewildering, too, the different things that people say about what causes allergies. It seems that no one can agree on whether it’s over- or under-exposure to the allergen that causes the immune system to go nuts and attack a harmless molecule. Now it’s been suggested that the window of opportunity for avoiding the nastiness of an allergy is pretty small: sometime between six months and nine months of age, at least for food-related allergies.
Personally I don’t think there’s a straight answer to this one and it just highlights the intricacy of the body, which can work against us or in our favour, but is fascinating regardless.
It seems unreasonable to expect anyone to be capable of signing an informed consent form unless they understand the planned test, the risks and the legal remedies.