JCSMR Director’s ‘Health through Discovery’ Public Lecture Series: On immunity against infections

Laureate Professor Rolf Zinkernagel, Experimental Immunology, The University of Zurich.

Analysis of the Immune system is fascinating and progressing rapidly. As a field of medical enquiry, it has however, drifted away to turn purely academic, because the interest and appreciation of protective immunity in infectious disease medicine has been overtaken by ‘l’art pour l’art’ of so-called ‘basic immunology’. This development deprives much of immunological sciences of the biological basis and understanding that is linked to co-evolution of infectious agents and hosts’ protective immunity. It is this co-evolutionary context that renders this field so different from studying yeast, bacteria, fibroblasts, lymphocytes or neuronal cells in splendid isolation in in vitro model situations, where everything is possible (and permitted  or mistakes forgiven without repercussions) because the co-evolutionary context is ignored.

I shall explain why we have excellent vaccines against acutely lethal (childhood) infections but not against most slow, chronic persistent infections or tumors, which usually kill us late i.e. after reproduction. Another conclusion is that so-called ‘immunological memory’ of course exists, but only in particular experimental laboratory models measuring ‘quicker and better’ responses which often do correlate with, but are not the key, mechanisms of protection. Protection depends on pre-existing neutralizing antibodies or pre-activated T cells at the time of infection. This is well documented by the importance of maternal antibodies at birth for survival of the offspring. Importantly, both high levels of antibodies in mothers are driven by antigen reencounter. This of course has serious implications for our thinking about old and hopes for new vaccines.

Professor Zinkernagel is Professor of Experimental Immunology at the University of Zurich. Together with Peter Doherty he received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus infected cells. In 1999 he was awarded an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia’s highest civilian honour, for his scientific work with Doherty.

This lecture is followed by light refreshments.RSVP by Wednesday 24 April.

Date & time

5.30–6.15pm 29 April 2013


The Finkel Lecture Theatre The John Curtin School of Medical Research, Building 131, Garran Road, ANU


 RSVP: Dr Madeleine Nicol
 +61 2 612 52577

Updated:  23 January 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director, JCSMR/Page Contact:  Web Manager