AAI President's Message

 

Betty A. Diamond, M.D. (AAI President, 2009-10)

It is a privilege to assume the presidency of the AAI this year, just as it was a privilege to be accepted for membership in the AAI over three decades ago. During these past 30 years, I have been much advantaged by my relationship with AAI. The annual meeting has been a venue for listening to the progress of immunology, meeting others at the same stage of career, telling my own scientific story, and bonding with other women scientists. The annual meeting continues to be a great event, where we welcome young investigators, learn from our colleagues, and show our appreciation to the field's luminaries.

My first papers were published in The Journal of Immunology (The JI). The JI continues to be the major journal in our discipline. It has been ably shepherded through changes in mechanisms of communication by a series of dedicated editors. Now, under the editorship of Jeremy Boss, it moves further into the cyber universe but maintains its position as the primary journal where immunologists tell their story, learn new information and re-examine seminal moments in the development of the field. And this happens in large part due to the expertise and commitment of Kaylene Kenyon, Publication Director, who has worked tirelessly and effectively to make the process of manuscript submission, review and publication easier and more timely.

For the three decades during which I have been an immunologist and, therefore, concerned about the future of the discipline, AAI has been our voice on Capitol Hill. It has spoken out for funding to support high quality research and training opportunities. It continues to advocate for the independence of the NIH and the scientific agenda from politics and narrow interests. The success of the AAI Public Affairs program is due in large part to the skills of Lauren Gross, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, whose first-hand experience on Capitol Hill brings an "insider's" understanding of how to effectively communicate the critical need for basic research to the men and women who represent us. She understands the mission and needs of AAI and the strategies that can best accomplish that mission.

Over the past few years AAI has endeavored to make immunologists a global community and increase our interactions with immunologists worldwide. This is an effort that will require renewed commitment in the coming year, as resources become scarcer, but ultimately will enrich our science and our lives.

The AAI could not function in any of these activities without the leadership of Michele Hogan, Executive Director, and the astute financial stewardship of Jan Massey, Director of Finance.

The coming year is one of responsibility. Now perhaps more than ever, the advocacy efforts of AAI are needed. Prior to the recent influx of $10.4 billion in temporary "stimulus funds" to the NIH, dollars for actual research had diminished for several years in succession, even as the opportunities for progress in understanding human health and disease had grown. This decline led to an unprecedented level of frustration that demoralized young investigators and coarsened the tone of discourse among colleagues. While the stimulus funds have given us a much needed boost, we need AAI more than ever to advocate for sustained research funding (not the "boom and bust" funding cycles that have characterized recent years) to ensure diversity of researchers and research programs—both large and small.

We need AAI to help resist the bureaucratization of research and the impulse to opt for programs characterized by low risk and short term yield and the equally destructive impulse to earmark funds for research on particular diseases rather than focusing on the best science, new opportunities, and a broad portfolio. This will be a major effort of AAI over this next year to which I am committed. With the change in Administration and change in leadership at the NIH and at the Department of Health and Human Services, we need to make sure that our voice is heard in setting the research agenda. With the changes in scientific review now being implemented by CSR, we need to monitor their impact to ensure a sensible and fair peer review process, the training of investigators at all career stages, a focus on research quality, and an openness to novel and paradigm-changing studies.

For all of its success, we need to strengthen AAI so that it represents and serves all immunologists—now and in the future—even more effectively. Launching a career in science is more difficult now than it used to be. Sustaining a career also requires more work and more resources than previously.

AAI must continue to grow as it has grown during the past decades. AAI sponsors both Introductory and Advanced Courses in immunology that have been instrumental in converting immunology enthusiasts (graduate students and fellows) into immunology aficionados. These courses attest to the willingness of AAI members to donate time and energy to advance the field and assist new investigators in deciphering the vocabulary and unraveling the pathways of organization, activation, regulation and dysfunction in the immune system.

The new generation of immunologists needs AAI for its educational programs, its journal, its career and networking opportunities, and its advocacy. And AAI is stronger when we all participate, each finding some activity within the organization that engages our imagination. We need to expand membership to ensure that all immunologists have the advantages of community; we need to ensure that our programs meet the needs of current investigators; we need to make wise political and strategic decisions to grow our discipline and support young investigators despite limited resources. We need to extend ourselves globally to increase our own opportunities and the opportunities of our colleagues overseas.

I see the coming year offering AAI members a great opportunity. We have the opportunity to play a role in restoring science to its rightful place in our society. We need to make sure that the public understands the power of science, its capacity to transform our health, the commitment needed to maintain a scientific infrastructure, and the overwhelming integrity and responsible performance of the scientific enterprise. We have an opportunity to help explain to the public the importance of evolution and the potential of stem cells, and the promise of continued support of the scientific enterprise. We have an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that science can improve our health, our economy, and our position as a world leader.

The AAI has shown imagination, versatility, and steadfastness in its efforts to advance the science of immunology. It is an incredible honor to be given a chance to serve this organization as its president. I hope that one legacy of this year will be the awareness of all immunologists, young and less young, that each can contribute to AAI. Together we will strengthen and expand its programs. AAI welcomes your ideas, your comments, and your energy. Please make a commitment to have your trainees join AAI and urge your colleagues to follow suit. [For information on AAI Membership, visit www.aai.org/membership/.] Attend the AAI meetings, volunteer to serve on AAI committees, and participate in AAI advocacy by responding to requests for action from the Committee on Public Affairs. Together let us approach this year with renewed commitment to our shared passion: the science of immunology.