Recognizing AAPI Contributions to Immunology

The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) recognizes the vital contributions to the field of immunology from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) scientists. Since the dawn of the 20th century, Asian American scientists have been at the forefront of biomedical research. Although many social barriers stood in their way, Asian Americans are no longer an underrepresented minority in the field. Here we present stories of some important AAPI immunologists throughout history.

We also recognize the impact that misguided public health measures of the past have had on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and address that historical reality below.

 

Public Health, Honolulu’s Chinatown, and the bubonic plague, 1899–1900

In December 1899, Honolulu’s Chinatown was struck by the first American outbreak of plague. Cruel containment measures resulted in the entire neighborhood being razed by fire. AAI recognizes this tragedy that befell the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Hawai'i.


Hideyo Noguchi (AAI 1921)

Hideyo Noguchi was a prominent immunologist and bacteriologist. In 1913, he proved that Treponema pallidum (syphilitic spirochete) was the cause of syphilis.

Dr. Noguchi was born in 1876 in Inawashiro, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, and earned his M.D. in 1897. Three years later, he traveled to the United States, where he soon became a research assistant to Simon Flexner (1920), first at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Following the success of his research on syphilis, he began to research yellow fever and a possible vaccine. While conducting yellow fever research in Africa in 1928, he contracted the disease and shortly thereafter succumbed to his infection.


Kimishige Ishizaka (AAI 1958)

Kimishige ("Kimi") Ishizaka (1925–2018) was the first AAI president (1984–85) born in Asia. In 1966, a paper in The Journal of Immunology co-authored with his wife Teruko (“Terry”) Ishizaka (AAI 1965), first described the new antibody isotype immunoglobulin E (IgE), so named because it was originally detected in the serum of a ragweed-sensitive patient with antibodies to ragweed antigen E.

Born in 1925 in Tokyo, Ishizaka had envisioned a career as a practicing physician and entered medical school at the University of Tokyo in 1944. After completing his medical training, he immersed himself in basic research and received a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. In 1962, the Ishizakas, already partners in marriage and science, moved to the United States to conduct immunology research: First at Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver; then Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and finally at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, now the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI).

Throughout his scientific career in the United States, Ishizaka never forgot his origins and put enormous energy into training young investigators—many from Japan. In addition to those recruited to LJI, Kimi mentored several young immunologists in Denver and Baltimore who later became very prominent scientists. They include the following: Kiyoshi Takatsu (AAI 1976), who discovered IL-5; Tadamitsu Kishimoto (AAI 1972), who discovered IL-6; and (the late) Tomio Tada (AAI 1969), who proposed a class of T cells with suppressor function and later became a Noh drama playwright.


Tasuku Honjo (AAI 1988)

Tasuku Honjo was, with James P. Allison (AAI 1978), a recipient of the 2018  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their "discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation."

Dr. Honjo is a professor emeritus at Kyoto University and distinguished professor and deputy director-general at the Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study. After earning his M.D. in 1966, Dr. Honjo was a research fellow in the United States from 1971 to 1974 at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the National Institutes of Health. He received his Ph.D. in 1975 from Kyoto University, where he has served on the faculty since 1984.


Wayne M. Yokoyama (AAI 1984)

Wayne M. Yokoyama is the first AAI president (2017–2018) born in Hawai'i. Dr. Yokoyama is the Sam and Audrey Loew Levin Professor of Medicine, Pathology and Immunology and director of the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University School of Medicine. He was president of AAI from 2017 to 2018 and served as an AAI Council member from 2012 to 2019. Dr. Yokoyama was elected a Distinguished Fellow of AAI in 2020.

Learn more about Dr. Yokoyama’s early years and his immunology research in Hawai'i from his Presidential Address below:

 

 

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