The immune system has evolved to protect us against infectious agents, including viruses. Currently, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is great interest in exactly how the immune system protects against viruses and the development of anti-viral vaccines. This article is a general introduction to these areas.

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Image copyright of Igor Mojzes | | ID 175635363

Immune responses to viruses

Viruses infect cells and take over the cell’s molecular machinery in order to replicate and spread. The immune response against viruses has two main components:

1. preventing cells becoming infected

2. recognition and destruction of virus-infected cells.

These two elements are carried out by different arms of the immune system. Antibodies are effective in limiting the spread of virus between cells in blood and body fluids. They can also prevent viruses from entering and infecting cells. Once a cell has become infected some of the cells of the immune system can recognise the infected cell and destroy it before viral replication is complete. The cells responsible for recognising and destroying infected cells are T-lymphocytes (T cells) and another type of lymphocyte, Natural Killer cells (NK cells). …

A personal take on experiences before and after the Berlin Wall fell from an Open University lecturer in Classical Studies.

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Image is from and royalty free.

Like many millions I watched the breaching of the Berlin Wall on TV in 1989. I’ve had two direct and brief encounters with East Germany before and after this historic event. I’m descended from a C19th German Jewish émigré family of musicians but I first visited East Germany in 1982 when we went on a camping holiday, a group of ten of us, including children.

We arrived at a campsite in Werder, near Potsdam at 3am and blundered about noisily setting up our tents on the playground, but no-one seemed too bothered. …

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the sales of personalised books go up, but are they as beneficial as other children’s books? Professor Natalia Kucirkova explores.

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Copyright: Photo 156662534 © Fizkes |

In the pre-COVID-19 era, children’s personalised books used to be a niche market. Far from their early prototypes that merely had the child’s name stuck on the book cover, today’s personalised books feature entire families — including pets — and claim to boost children’s self-esteem and transform the publishing industry. With a personalised version of Where’s Wally, children search for their own faces. Instead of Cinderella’s castle, it is the child’s own castle.

The global pandemic has seen the mushrooming of personalised books that help children cope with school closures or processing grief. Children love stories about them, so parents buy the books and publishers produce deeper personalised versions of classical stories. We need children to read more, and we need to innovate the book market. …

Today is black Friday (27 November 2020) and in the current retail landscape, shoppers are presented with a multitude of promotions to encourage spending, but how significant are seasonal events and factors such as the weather?

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Image by igorovsyannykov on under Creative Commons.

Low prices and innovative items may not just be sufficient for retailers’ survival in today’s retail environment. Retailers should develop strategies that integrate a variety of factors including assortment, store atmosphere, price, and service interface in order to create a desirable shopping experience that may lead to increase in sales (Grewal et al., 2009). Furthermore, retailers are expected to profit from various events and use it as an opportunity to boost sales. Today’s retail landscape is filled with multitude events such as Mother’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, sporting events such as Football World Cup, as well as major weather events, all affecting the ways consumers shop. …

Reflecting so far, 2020 and the unfortunate arrival of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has certainly given the Year of the Nurse, a unique position on the global health stage. Dr Rebecca Garcia, Lecturer in Nursing at The Open University, looks at the importance of nursing.

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Image by 18371568 on under Creative Commons.

This time last year, The World Health Organisation was making plans to raise the profile of nursing across the world, in order to celebrate Florence Nightingales 200th anniversary and to increase the global workforce. However, in December 2019, Coronavirus made an appearance initially in Wuhan, then worldwide, demanding attention from the public, health staff and governments across the world.

In the UK, the NHS responded by realigning to meet the anticipated large numbers of acutely ill patients, with nurses rapidly trained and/or redeployed to meet the demand of COVID-19 cases. Third year student nurses were asked to volunteer to help with extended practice hours; while a further 10,000 ex-nurses returned to the profession to support the pandemic effort (Ford, 2020)[i]. The health and social care sector, and NHS received positive public attention, as never seen before. …

How has the way we communicate changed due to wearing a face mask? Dr Marina Cantarutti, Interactional Linguist and Research Associate at The Open University, shares her thoughts.

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Image by August de Richelieu on under Creative Commons.

This year has seen the world change in ways we never could have imagined: socially distancing from friends and loved ones, remote working implemented across the UK, washing and sanitising our hands for more than 20 seconds, and now wearing face coverings in supermarkets and shops.

One of the most powerful tools in communication is the face. People can easily make a number of inferences from facial expressions about physical health, emotional state, personality traits, pleasure or pain. …

While so much progress has been made regarding the rights of the LGBTQ community, it might come as a surprise that young people in this community are at considerable risk of becoming homeless. Dr Mathijs Lucassen explores this issue and how we can overcome it.

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Image by 42 North on under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license.

We have experienced rapid social progress in terms of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/trans and queer (LGBTQ) people including, for example, marriage equality in the United Kingdom (UK) and in many other Western countries. It would therefore be logical to assume that life has got considerably better for all LGBTQ individuals. Especially when considering that this social progress has been underscored by legislative changes, which means that sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010.

This means that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sexuality, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual (or heterosexual) and a person cannot be discriminated against because they are transgender. But despite this social progress, LGBTQ youth often still experience distressing bullying and victimization. …

The homeless and especially those who are rough sleepers, comprise a disproportionate number of people in prison in England and Wales. Dr David Scott looks at why prisons and the streets are not a replacement for a true home.

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Copyright: Image by cylonphoto

In 2018 The Chain Reports found that 15% of newly sentenced people in prison had reported being homeless before entering custody. They also found that a third people sleeping on the streets in London in 2018 had served some time in prison. Further, in 2018 of the 7,745 women sent to prison in England and Wales, 3,262 were recorded as ‘being of no fixed abode’ when arriving in custody, which is approximately 42% of the prison intake for women prisoners in that year.

It has long been documented that people living on the streets are largely without work, privacy, decent food, or shelter and are often without good health. For many homeless people, life in prison is likely to exacerbates already existing personal troubles and health problems and does very little to address the existential crises generated by being without a home in wider society. …

Harriet Tubman led 300 slaves northwards to freedom in 19 trips along the “underground railroad”. Dr Will Hardy introduces her story.

Harriet Tubman was one of the great heroines of the struggle against slavery in nineteenth-century America. Born a slave herself, she was famous for escaping from her “owners”, and then returning several times in secret to liberate many of her fellow slaves.

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Harriet Tubman, photographed in 1895. Copyright free: Public domain / The New England Magazine, 1895 via Wikicommons

The black freedom fighter John Brown reckoned her to be “one of the bravest persons on this continent”. Her life still inspires people, and she is one of a select group of historical figures who holds a fascination for both public and scholars alike. …

Explore the history of the New York neighbourhood of Harlem to understand why investment can cause as many problems as lack of investment and how this has considerable impacts on the African-American community.

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Three African American women in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, ca. 1925

This New York City neighbourhood — part of Manhattan borough — has long been home for its large proportion of African-American residents and businesses. After being associated for much of the twentieth century with crime and poverty, it is now experiencing social and economic gentrification.

As a settlement, it traces its routes back to the early Dutch pioneers — it’s named for a Dutch city — and became part of the city of New York in 1873, after its value as an independent agricultural centre had declined.

The arrival of the elevated railroad seven years later brought a new rush of fortune to the area. A period of rapid property development followed, but an oversupply of new buildings and delays in the extension of the New York subway network sent prices into a downward spiral. …



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