Brief History of Immunology at UAB (1970-1980)

by J. Claude Bennett

I became Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Director of the Bennett1976Division of Rheumatology in 1970. Although resources were meager Cooper and I jointly worked to recruit students, fellows and new faculty to UAB. The decade of 1970-1980 was a time of great excitement for the immunology program. Perhaps the most important element in our programmatic development was the formation of a Microbiology Advisory Committee – made up of senior people from outside UAB. The immunologists on the committee were Ray D. Owen, Ph.D. – Chair of the Biology Division at CalTech; Henry Kunkel. M.D. – Professor at the Rockefeller Institute (now University); and Herman Eisen, M.D., Professor of Microbiology at Washington University and later at M.I.T. These men gave us advice on how to develop programs within a department and to build relationships across other elements of the University. In addition they helped in recruitment of new young faculty and pointed students at their institutions to UAB for postdoctoral fellowships.

The Department of Microbiology was fortunate in the recruitment of Roy RoyCurtisCurtiss III, Ph.D., from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1971. Professor Curtiss’s field was bacterial genetics, and he developed an excellent group around him. Most important for the history of immunology is that by 1975 he had established the Molecular Cell Biology Graduate Program which became the center for training graduate students in all the basic science disciplines at UAB. Many of these “early” students in the program were directed to immunology because of the strength of its faculty.

Cooper’s program in Pediatrics developed rapidly (1966-1968) with the early JohnKearneyrecruitment of Sandy Lawton, M.D., to work in the immunodeficiency area, and Richard Johnston, M.D., to work with  macrophages and complement. Both of these men were appointed to professorships in Pediatrics at other universities: Lawton to Vanderbilt and Johnston to the University of Pennsylvania. In the mid-to-late 1970’s, John Kearney, Ph.D., and Hiromi Kubagawa, M.D., joined the Cooper lab. A host of graduate students, postdocs, and distinguished visitors followed. This was the major contributing factor to the growth, visibility, excellence and prestige of the UAB Immunology Program.


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