By Stefan Tuomanen

 Justement 300 x 200Our profile this month introduces one of the best educators in Immunology: Dr. Louis Justement, Ph.D. Dr. Justement trained at Ohio State University in the Department of Microbiology, specializing in Immunology, and at the National Jewish Medical Research Center, in Denver, where his research focused on understanding the cellular and molecular processes that regulate aspects of B cell biology.

This naturally this made moving to UAB very attractive due to its preeminence in B cell research. At UAB since 1996, he has taught Immunology at all levels with his newest goal being the formation of a unique program focused on undergraduates who can now major in Immunology. He says, “a lot of focus is put into Immunology education at the graduate and professional level but not really at the undergraduate level.  This is one of only 5 programs of its kind and it addresses the challenge that undergraduates face when trying to comprehend the complexity of the immune system.” Deeply passionate about education, Dr. Justement believes that it is his job as a mentor to bolster students’ conviction and confidence to be proactive in their career development.

Dr. Justement is Director of the GBS Immunology Graduate Theme and the Director of the new Undergraduate Immunology Program (UIP). As Director of the UIP, is working closely with his colleague Dr. Heather Bruns to create courses that present an overview of the immune system at the front end and then dive into more specific aspects of the innate and adaptive immune responses that reveal how the system keeps you healthy and at the same time, how it causes serious disease and even death.

 “One thing I feel very strongly about, is to help trainees feel as prepared as possible to make the right decisions and to have the confidence and knowledge to make career decisions. It is incumbent upon us as mentors to help them realize they need to be proactive about their future careers. This new major is beneficial for students entering into health professions, students who want to be competitive in research, as well as students considering scientific/pharmaceutical sales or teaching.” 

The UIP is being engineered to have a strong sense of community and collaboration among the students, echoing the culture of UAB and the Department of Microbiology. Furthermore, Dr. Justement stresses that the program is geared towards those students who aspire to be the leaders of tomorrow in medicine and science. The comprehensive scope of the UIP provides resources, opportunities, and guidance for any student who wants to be competitive in the health professions: be it medicine, research, or education. Importantly, Dr. Justement’s experience in graduate and post-graduate education gives him a thorough understanding of the road ahead for undergraduate students in the health sciences. The UIP therefore is ideally suited to give students the knowledge, abilities, and support to successfully determine the direction they want their career to take.

In addition to his focus on education, Dr. Justement runs a research lab focused on understanding the cellular and molecular processes that regulate B cell activation and differentiation. His laboratory currently focuses on studying receptors and adaptor proteins that trigger intracellular signals to activate B cells and promote their differentiation into plasma cells that make antibodies. Recent studies using transgenic mice have revealed that HSH2, an adaptor protein, plays a critical role in regulating terminal differentiation of B cells into antibody secreting plasma cells.  Related studies on the transmembrane receptor CD19 have demonstrated that specific residues in its cytoplasmic domain are critical for regulating the qualitative nature of the antibody response.  Creating small molecules that interact with signaling pathways that HSH2 and CD19 regulate, which in turn drive B cell differentiation, could be useful in enhancing responses to vaccines or blocking autoimmune diseases.

On the national level, Dr. Justement has been very active in the science policy arena. He is currently Vice President for Science Policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which is a Federation of 29 professional societies representing over 130,000 scientists. In his role as Vice President, Dr. Justement oversees the Science Policy Committee, which deals with a wide range of policy issues in science including, human research, the use of animals in research, data use and management, as well as training and career development.