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13th Hermann Staudinger Lecture with Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty: "The Killer Defense"

Wann 05.02.2013
von 17:15 bis 18:00
Wo Anatomy Lecture Hall, Albertstr. 19, 79104 Freiburg
Kontakttelefon +49 761 203 97418
Teilnehmer Open to the public
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13th Hermann Staudinger Lecture

Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty


The Killer Defense

The word “immunity” is derived from the latin “immunis”, referring to the untaxed status of soldiers who had returned from foreign wars. Like the Roman Legions, the immune system is there to protect us, principally against the toll taken by less sophisticated life forms (viruses, bacteria) that seek to invade and compromise our territorial body integrity. Conventionally, we partition our thinking about immunity into two, broad categories, innate and adaptive. Elements of innate immunity are found right across evolution (in both plants and animals) and continue in us. The only adaptive immune system we know about is in the vertebrates, from the jawed fish and above. Many of both the innate and adaptive immune mechanisms that operate in mammals are mediated via specialized categories of highly motile cells, the monocyte/macrophages, neutrophils, lymphocytes and so forth. These white blood cells were first discovered in the 1840’s and, while we soon understood at least the innate phagocytic function of macrophages, it was not until the 1950’s and 1960’s that the true nature of the various lymphocyte categories that mediate adaptive immunity started to emerge. About then, we saw the first glimmerings of evidence that a particular category of lymphocytes, the “killer T cells”, is programmed to destroy and eliminate damaged cells within us. These “hit men” of immunity are very precisely targeted, as any tendency for “promiscuous” killing of normal cells could obviously be extremely dangerous. After a brief, general discussion of our Immune Legions and how we exploit the adaptive response to protect us by, for example, vaccination, the discussion will focus on the nature and possible therapeutic manipulation of this killer defense.