Immunologist John Kearney named AAAS fellow

This national honor recognizes Kearney’s distinguished contributions to immunology.

RS9412 john kearney 2013 7 scrJohn F. Kearney, Ph.D.John F. Kearney, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Microbiology, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS. Election as an AAAS fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

This year, 416 AAAS members won this honor due to their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Kearney was elected in the Medical Sciences section of AAAS “for his distinguished contributions to immunology, particularly in understanding B cell development and the role of B cells in autoimmune diseases.”

“UAB and the Department of Microbiology are very pleased that Dr. Kearney has been recognized by AAAS for his considerable research achievements during his career here at UAB,” said Fran Lund, Ph.D., chair of Microbiology. “Dr. Kearney’s lab has, over the years, made a number of important discoveries that are revolutionizing how we manipulate the immune system to treat allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease.” 

Kearney came to UAB in 1973 and is notable, among other achievements, for his breakthrough paper, “A New Mouse Myeloma Cell Line that Has Lost Immunoglobulin Expression but Permits the Construction of Antibody-Secreting Cell Lines,” in 1979. This foundational study helped create optimal monoclonal antibodies, and it has been cited more than 2,100 times, according to Google Scholar.

Monoclonal antibodies are valuable in both research and medical treatment. The first therapeutic monoclonal antibodies were commercialized in 1986, and global sales were almost $90 billion in 2015.

“Without Dr. Kearney’s seminal studies that allowed for the easy creation of monoclonal antibodies, the new class of anti-cancer ‘checkpoint inhibitor’ biologic drugs could not have been developed,” Lund said. “In many ways, Dr. Kearney’s studies highlight how experiments that were originally designed to advance our understanding of the fundamental principles underlying immunity can also lead to advances in how we treat human disease. 

Kearney began his monoclonal antibody work while on sabbatical from UAB in Germany with the noted immunologist Klaus Rajewsky, Ph.D. “As I look back,” Kearney has said of his sabbatical year, “90 percent of the research I have done since has employed monoclonal antibodies made with the cell line I developed at the University of Cologne.”

"Kearney’s studies highlight how experiments that were originally designed to advance our understanding of the fundamental principles underlying immunity can also lead to advances in how we treat human disease," said  Fran Lund, Ph.D., chair of Microbiology.

The new AAAS fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue — representing science and engineering, respectively — rosette pin Saturday, Feb. 16, at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. 

Among his other honors, Kearney was UAB’s 50th Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in 2013.

Other UAB faculty who are AAAS fellows and are current members of AAAS include the following:

  • UAB School of Medicine: N. Rama Krishna, Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics; Etty “Tika” Benveniste, Ph.D., Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology; Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Genetics; David Briles, Ph.D., and David Chaplin, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Microbiology; Vladimir Parpura, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology; and John Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Pathology.
  • UAB College of Arts and Sciences: Charles Amsler, Ph.D., Jim McClintock, Ph.D., and Steven Austad, Ph.D., Department of Biology; and Edward Taub, Ph.D., Department of Psychology.
  • UAB School of Dentistry: Mary MacDougall, Ph.D., Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.