Max Cooper receives Lasker Award for immunology

Cooper spent 40 years at UAB, where he made countless discoveries in immunology.

MaxCooper2Max Cooper, M.D. (Jack Kearse, Emory University)Max Cooper, M.D., an internationally renowned immunologist who spent 40 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has received the 2019 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

The Lasker Award is America’s most prestigious biomedical research award. Cooper, currently at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, along with Jacques Miller, Ph.D., professor emeritus at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, are being honored for identifying two distinct classes of lymphocytes, B and T cells. Their discovery revealed the fundamental organizing principle of the adaptive immune system and launched the course of modern immunology.

While the discovery of the two distinct classes of lymphocytes occurred before Cooper came to UAB, he went on to make many new discoveries that stemmed from this research over the course of his 40-year career at the medical center.

“I had many happy years at UAB, and I still have fond memories and great affection for the institution,” Cooper said. “It was a fruitful time, and I am grateful for my time there.”

“Dr. Max Cooper was an intellectual leader and a revered colleague at UAB during his 40 years on our faculty,” said Seth Landefeld, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Medicine. “His discoveries elucidated the evolution and function of the adaptive immune system and laid the foundation for our understanding and treatment of immunological diseases and many cancers in humans. Dr. Cooper is especially loved for nurturing the hearts and minds of younger colleagues and fostering their careers. All of us are thrilled that this year’s Lasker Award recognizes Dr. Cooper for his extraordinary work.”

One of his discoveries while at UAB was determining whether or not leukemias and lymphomas were T cell or B cell malignancies and when the malignant transformation occurred. Cooper says that, by identifying where the B lineage cells begin their development and ways to recognize their earliest differentiation stages, they were able to define the stages in which they become malignant, for example, thus categorizing childhood lymphoblastic leukemias as pro-B, pre-B cell or B cell malignancies. Likewise, he and his UAB colleagues were able to begin to determine the different stages at which B lineage differentiation may be blocked to result in antibody deficiencies.

“The School of Medicine is very proud of Dr. Cooper for his outstanding research accomplishments, and we were so fortunate to have him as a member of our UAB community for more than 40 years,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president and dean of the UAB School of Medicine. “He is extremely deserving of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award as his leadership in modern immunology research has been vast, and his discoveries have provided extraordinary advancements in the field.”

Cooper was a professor of medicine, pediatrics, microbiology and pathology, as well as director of the Division of Developmental and Clinical Immunology and member of the Cancer Center at UAB. During his tenure there, he became UAB’s — and Alabama’s — first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He was also elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1989, making him the first scientist in Alabama to receive this honor.

The Department of Medicine established the Max Cooper Award for Career Excellence in Research. The annual award recognizes senior faculty researchers who have gained national recognition for important research discoveries over their scientific careers.