The field of immunotoxicology has many components. People who study immunotoxicology can specialize in the following areas:

  • Toxicology: the study of the harmful effects of substances on living things
  • Immunology: the study of the immune system’s ability to respond to infection
  • Epidemiology: the study of associations between disease and exposure to harmful substances in populations of people
  • Clinical toxicology: the study of harmful side-effects of medications in humans or animals
  • Allergy, a sub-discipline of immunology
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Statistics

Scientists can study the effects of immunotoxicants at many levels:

  • Molecular (chemical level)
  • Cellular (within cells)
  • Intracellular (between cells)
  • Organ systems
  • Organisms
  • Populations of organisms

At the Environmental Health Sciences Center at Oregon State University, immunotoxicologist Dr. Nancy Kerkvliet and her research team are trying to understand how exposure to dioxin and related chemicals cause suppression of the immune response. They are primarily interested in figuring out how dioxin interacts with T lymphocytes, which are very important cells in the immune system. Her laboratory studies T cells from mice that have been exposed to dioxin. They are learning what dioxin is doing on the inside of T cells that leads to changes in the ability of the cells to respond to infection.

To read more about Dr. Kerkvliet’s research facilities at Oregon State University, visit her lab’s webpage.