AAI President's Message

 

Olivera J. (Olja) Finn, Ph.D. (AAI President, 2007-08)

It was a great honor and a source of pride for me to be elected AAI Councilor five years ago. Even though I knew that this election meant that I would eventually take over the presidency of our organization for a year, that year seemed very far away. Until that time came, I was comforted by knowledge that as a Councilor I would have plenty of time to learn from my colleagues on Council what are the important issues to AAI members and how to best advocate for them. I also intended to learn as much as possible from watching first hand several presidents ahead of me who successfully presided over our organization, Paul Kincade (2002-2003), Laurie Glimcher (2003-2004), Suzy Swain (2004-2005), Paul Allen (2005-2006) and Lewis Lanier (2006-2007). I have been humbled by all of them. Each one of them has left a mark on our organization by steering it in a slightly different direction specific to their strengths and convictions, but always decidedly forward.

Anticipating my presidential year, I have asked myself what unique mark might I make on AAI. I realize that my responsibilities as a Councilor were very different from the responsibilities I feel as the AAI President. As a member of the AAI Council, I was concerned with making sure that various established AAI activities continued to run well and that we provided them with sufficient support and capable leadership. We regularly evaluated activities of the 12 AAI committees and made sure that they remained responsive to the needs of our members. More than 150 AAI members work tirelessly on these committees, and their efforts are reflected in our successes in influencing public policy when it comes to research funding and research regulations, in promoting equality and diversity among scientists, in educating and mentoring our trainees, in awarding excellence in science, and in maintaining the financial health of our organization so that these activities can go on. At every Council meeting we renewed our pride in our society's publication, The Journal of Immunology, which continues to hold a very high standing among immunology journals and upholds the highest standards of scientific quality and integrity thanks to the efforts of its editors and many thousands of AAI members who serve as reviewers. All of these activities channel through the best organized and most efficiently run office of any professional organization I have known, the credit for which goes to Dr. Michele Hogan for her devotion to immunology and her special talent for recruiting the smartest and the nicest people.

On taking the reins of this successful professional organization as its President, the Latin phrase "primium non nocere" – "first do no harm" – comes to mind. Under the vigilant eye of Dr. Hogan and the Council, I feel relatively safe from making big mistakes. From this comfort zone, however, I would like to lead AAI this year in a direction that I believe will make it even stronger than it already is – and that is outside the borders of the United States. For the last three years, I have represented AAI on the Council of the International Union of Immunology Societies (IUIS). At the recent International Immunology Congress in Rio de Janeiro, I was re-elected for another three-year term. The only time many of you may hear about IUIS is if you attend the triennial international congresses that are held under the auspices of IUIS. Yet, as AAI members you should be more aware of all its activities because of our involvement in the IUIS history. The very first international immunology congress was held in 1971 in Washington, DC, with AAI as the host society. This was two years after IUIS was founded by 12 founding member societies: AAI, British Society of Immunology, Canadian Society of Immunology, Dutch Society of Immunology, Gesellschaft fur Immunologie, Israel Immunological Society, Polish Society of Immunology, Scandanavian Society for Immunology, Société Française d'immunologie, Yugoslav Immunological Society, Australian Society for Immunology and the Swiss Society of Allergy and Immunology.

IUIS currently has 54 member societies, of which AAI is the largest. Some of the societies have formed regional federations in order to pool their resources and better address the needs of their members. The IUIS as an umbrella organization has three missions: organize international cooperation in immunology and promote communication between the various branches of immunology and allied subjects; encourage within each scientifically independent territory co-operation between the societies that represent the interests of immunology; and contribute to the advancement of immunology in all its aspects. Like AAI, IUIS carries out its activities within several standing committees. Unlike AAI's committees, however, IUIS committees serve primarily the needs of member societies from developing countries. The problems faced by immunology societies in those countries are daunting and they look to IUIS for help. IUIS, in turn, must rely on its wealthier societies to provide the financial means as well as knowledge and experience to help. AAI can do a lot more than pay its dues, which considering our size provides considerable income for IUIS.

I will call this year upon each AAI committee and challenge them to think about extending their activities globally. One way would be through increased communication with the comparable committees at IUIS. For example, I have been on the IUIS Education Committee for the last three years. The yearly budget of the committee is around $30,000. With that small budget, all we have been able to do is support in part travel of trainees from developing countries to various immunology courses. However, unless a course is held in their own country, many of these students cannot afford the rest of the cost and thus cannot take advantage of an opportunity to travel and learn.

I lectured this August in the AAI Advanced Immunology Course at the University of Minnesota and saw how much the students who attended the course appreciated the chance to learn. The same excitement is felt at the AAI Introductory Immunology Course. In collaboration with the IUIS Education Committee, we can bring more students from abroad who want to learn and need to learn, but do not have the means to access the knowledge. I was shocked recently to find out that Africa, the continent which needs many good immunologists to deal with the infectious diseases that plague it, has only just this year started its first ever graduate degree program, a Master's in Immunology at the Institute Pasteur de Dakar in Dakar, Senegal. Dr. Alioune Dieye, the Secretary General of the Senegalese Society of Immunology, was very proud to make that announcement at the IUIS meeting. I have already asked him what we can do to help.

I will continue to ask that question and will challenge all our committees and all of you to do the same. Consider as one of the benefits of your membership in AAI the opportunity to make a difference in immunology world-wide. "Primum non nocere" of my presidential year I will replace with "primum succerrere"—"first, hasten to help."