Department of Defense

Jim Mestecky
Immunologist Jiri Mestecky and colleagues have uncovered many crucial secrets of the body's defense system.

In the 1966 sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage, a miniaturized science team dodges antibodies and killer cells as it navigates through the bloodstream of a living human. Although they haven’t had the benefit of that experience, UAB researchers have communicated a number of up-close-and-personal discoveries that have greatly expanded our understanding of the body’s defense system.

Longtime UAB researcher Max Cooper, M.D., was the first to describe key components of the immune system known as B lymphocytes. After he came to UAB in 1967, Cooper successfully treated severe combined immunodeficiency disease for the first time with the transplant of fetal liver cells.

A landmark 1971 paper by Jiri Mestecky, M.D., Ph.D., described the protein immunoglobulin A (IgA)—work that helped reveal the importance of secretions such as tears and saliva in the body’s immune arsenal. Mestecky is now studying the use of IgA in HIV vaccines.


In 2005, UAB researchers led by Casey Weaver, M.D., called attention to the importance of Th17, a newly recognized subclass of immune system cells called T cells. Their findings offer hope of new treatments for many autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Meanwhile, UAB microbiologist Allan Zajac, Ph.D., is helping to unravel the cross talk between T cells and another important immunity molecule called interleukin-21. Improving this communication may help fight chronic HIV and hepatitis C infection.


Read more breakthrough stories in UAB Magazine's new fall issue.