Pathobiology & Immunology

The first vaccine was developed more than 200 years ago when there was scant knowledge about the human immune system. In 1796 English physician Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids had contracted cowpox, a disease that caused only mild illness in humans. But the women never developed the more severe and often fatal smallpox. Jenner learned how to inoculate people for smallpox by injecting them with cowpox virus. His success led to a smallpox vaccination and the eventual, worldwide annihilation of the deadly disease.

Other viral diseases controlled or eradicated through animal research and mass vaccination include polio, yellow fever, rabies, diphtheria, measles, tetanus and hepatitis B.

The world now faces the deadly plague of AIDS, caused by a retrovirus—HIV—that infects and overwhelms the immune cells designed to fight infections. Key programs within the Division of Pathobiology and Immunology seek to understand how retroviruses infect and deplete the immune system. Programs also investigate various AIDS-related opportunistic infections—several herpes viruses, including cytomegalovirus, Epstein‑Barr virus and the recently discovered Kaposi’s sarcoma–associated herpesvirus. These studies examine both HIV in infected human subjects or in cell culture, and the closely related simian immunodeficiency virus, which infects monkeys and provides an excellent animal model for HIV pathogenesis.

The revolution in biotechnology and the growing understanding of human genes give hope for great discoveries in virology. The division employs such astonishing new tools as the microarray technologies that analyze genetic profiles for a variety of diseases.

See a list of scientists in the Division of Pathobiology & Immunology