ImmunoHopping: An Introduction

This new section of the this blog describes a project which is a collaboration between Nexor , the School of Computer Science and the Academic Unit of Clinical Oncology at the University of Nottingham. This project aims to produce the next generation of cyber defence tools based on gaining an enhanced understanding of the human immune system. This work has been kindly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (“the EPSRC”).

Unlike the majority of interdisciplinary research projects of a similar nature, this does not involve a large team of multidisciplinary researchers. It is what is termed a “Discipline Hopping Award”, which transplants one academic for one year into a totally different discipline, with a view to pushing the boundaries of multiple disciplines. That academic is me, Dr. Julie Greensmith, lecturer in Computer Science, specialist in network security and building immune systems for computers. I have been transplanted from a computer science department to an immunology lab who work to develop immunotherapies for cancer treatments.

I will be blogging about my experiences in this project for the next year, demonstrating how an enhanced understanding of the human immune system, how it deals with deadly pathogens, can be made useful for protecting new types of computing systems like the Internet of Things. To do this I will also be working closely with Nexor to make sure that the research is also relevant for computer security.

This project is for me to gain a deep understanding of the amazing computation performed by the human immune system and to copy it to make what we call “artificial immune systems” – AIS. These AIS have been around in computer security since about 1997 and are based on very simplistic models of human immunology. Over the past two decades, researchers in this area have sought out the useful computational properties of the human immune system and have put them to work in a computational context. This includes detecting anomalies in computer networks, detecting faults in aircraft operations, optimising bus schedules, even creating works of art.

So here I am, located in a real lab, with real scientists, who do real life saving translational medicine. I hope that the simulations I make to understand the immune system can help their research in curing cancer in addition to helping us make better cyber defences. Its a bit of a tall order, I had better get started then….

If you want to read a more detailed overview of the project, it is available on the Grants on the Web from the EPSRC: ImmunoHopping: Creating New Nature Inspired Cyber Defences.