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The immune system is a complex set of cells and tissues that protect you from harmful invaders, such as a cold virus or bacteria on a thorn that pricks your skin. When the immune system recognizes a foreign organism, it mounts an inflammatory reaction that destroys the invader. Sometimes, however, this system goes wrong, and the immune system mistakes your own cells as foreign and repeatedly attacks them – this is called autoimmunity.
There are many types of autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, scleroderma and lupus, which are characterized by the tissues that are involved and the exact way that the immune system malfunctions. Autoimmune diseases affect an estimated 22 million Americans, and their incidence is growing. Although the precise cause of these diseases remains unclear, there is strong evidence that both genetic susceptibility and environmental factors play a role.
Autoimmune disorders have the same fundamental disease process as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which can affect the body’s muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Many MSDs, such as tissue injury, develop over time and can be caused by a person’s occupation, sporting activities or hobbies. Typically, MSDs affect the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs.
Scientists at The Feinstein Institute are extensively researching risk genes for a number of common conditions, including autoimmune and musculoskeletal disorders.