Brief History of Immunology at UAB (1980-1990)

by J. Calude Bennett,MD

Many recruitments, overlapping appointments, development of the “center” concept, and collaborative arrangements were going on in the years 1975-1990. SmallschroederThe appointment of Harry W. Schroeder, Jr, M.D., PhD, Peter Burrows, Ph.D., and David Briles, PhD to the Cooper lab were made possible by the building of new laboratory facilities by the Cancer Center. The Rheumatology Division expanded the role of Ralph Schrohenloher, Ph.D., in the study of the physical chemistry of immunoglobulins, and recruited Robert Stroud, M.D., and John Volanakis, M.D., to build the programVolanakis in Complement and its biochemistry. The Dental Institute at UAB recruited Jiri Mestecky, M.D., to join Professor Kraus in the study of the immunology of dental diseases. This program greatly expanded under the leadership of Mestecky to include Jerry McGhee, Ph.D., Suzanne Michalek, Ph.D., and Milan Tomana, Ph.D. Studies on secretory immunology, especially on the structure of the J-chain in IgA, brought together Mestecky with John Mole, Ph.D., Ajit Bhon, Ph.D., Jiri Zikan, Ph.D., and Mike Wolcott, Ph.D., from the Bennett lab. Ron Acton, Ph.D., as a graduate student, postdoc (following training at Cal Tech), and as a young faculty member (following study with Sir Rodney Porter at Oxford) extended his studies on fish immunoglobulins in conjunction with the structural Chemistry group.

William Koopman, M.D., was recruited to the Division of Rheumatology in the SmallKoopmanlate 1970’s to initiate his program in the study of autoimmune diseases. In 1982 when Bennett became Chair of the Department of Medicine, Koopman became Director of the Division and the name was changed to Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology – with the addition of James Bonner, M.D. (allergy), to the staff.

Cassell1980Microbiology was without a permanent chair for several years (Roy Curtiss III and Suzanne Michalek served admirably in the interval), until Gail Cassell, Ph.D., became Chair.

In the mid-1980’s a near disaster occurred when Max Cooper was offered a professorship at Harvard, UCLA, UCSF and then the University of Washington and a Howard Hughes position. This would have been an irreparable blow to the Immunology Program (diverse as it was, and still is). Dean James Pittman, M.D., and I, as Chair of the Department of Medicine, were able to persuade him to stay at UAB with this own budget, divisional status in Medicine for his group, and security for his on-going program.

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