AAI In Memoriam

Wendy L. Havran

AAI extends condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Wendy Havran, Ph.D., DFAAI (AAI ’85), a professor and associate dean of graduate studies at Scripps Research, who died on January 20th in San Diego following a brief illness.

Dr. Wendy Havran was widely known as a leader in the field of gamma delta T cell biology, for her commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists, and for her dedicated service to the profession through volunteer leadership on AAI committees. She was selected to present an AAI Distinguished Lecture at IMMUNOLOGY2020™ in Hawaii and had served at past AAI meetings as an invited major symposium chair and speaker and Abstract Programming Chair.

Throughout her career, Havran’s research focused on T cells. Havran completed her graduate studies in the laboratory of Dr. Frank Fitch at The University of Chicago, where she demonstrated that the cytolytic activity of CD8 T cells directed against damaged or cancerous cells was dependent on antigen binding to the T cell receptor (TCR).

During her postdoctoral training with Dr. James Allison at the University of California, Berkeley, she demonstrated that murine lymphocytes in the thymus expressing both CD4 and CD8 were functional, intermediate cells that can undergo selection to develop into mature T cells. Havran also carried out some of the first phenotypic and functional characterizations of gamma-delta T cell populations. This work ultimately showed that gamma-delta T cells migrate from an embryo’s developing thymus to the skin, where they remain throughout life.

Additionally, she generated one of the first antibodies against the gamma-delta TCR and demonstrated that the diversity of the T cell compartment in the skin is restricted by use of a single V gamma gene segment.

During her postdoctoral training, Havran received a Lucille P. Markey Scholar in Biomedical Science grant, which she used to start her own lab focused on gamma-delta T cells at Scripps Research in 1991. Her lab reported that keratinocyte growth factor (KGF), which is essential for tissue repair in the skin, is upregulated by gamma-delta T cells in mouse skin following injury, suggesting that skin-resident T cells contribute to wound healing.

Subsequent studies showed delayed wound healing in mice lacking gamma-delta T cells in the skin, a phenotype that was in part due to a lack of KGF. Her group confirmed a role for gamma-delta T cells in wound healing in humans by examining skin samples from non-diseased and chronic and acute wound skin samples.

Havran’s lab also demonstrated that gamma-delta T cells reside in the intestinal epithelium and protect the intestinal lining through the production of KGF.

Current studies by Havran’s group seek to identify the activating ligand for gamma-delta T cells. Using a soluble version of the mouse gamma-delta TCR, her group demonstrated that ligands for the gamma-delta TCR are undetectable in resting, undamaged skin, but are rapidly expressed by murine keratinocytes at the site of a skin wound.

From 2014 to 2017, Havran served as chair of the AAI Program Committee and as an ex officio member of the AAI Council. In previous years, she served as a member of multiple AAI committees, including Awards, Nominating, Program, Publications, and Committee on the Status of Women (CSOW). She also served as a Section Editor and Associate Editor for The Journal of Immunology, faculty member for the AAI Advanced and Introductory Immunology Courses, member of the CSOW Career Advisory Board, AAI High School Teachers Summer Research Program mentor, and AAI delegate to the IUIS General Assembly.

In recognition of her extensive service to AAI and the immunology community, Havran was elected in 2019 to the inaugural class of Distinguished Fellows of AAI, an honor that is among the highest bestowed by AAI. In 2018, she received the AAI Distinguished Service Award for her enduring and exemplary service, including as AAI program chair. Havran was selected for the 2019 AAI Careers in Immunology Fellowship.


Dr. Havran’s survivors include her father George Havran; sisters Lisa McKissick (John) and Laurie Nelson (Mark); nieces Mara and Alisa Nelson and Galina McKissick; and nephews Philip Nelson and Matthew McKissick.

A funeral service for Havran was held on February 1 in Houston, TX. Colleagues will gather for a celebration of her life at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, on March 14, 2020.

A graduate student scholarship has been established at Scripps Research to honor Dr. Havran’s contributions to science and mentorship. Donations may be made at https://www.scripps.edu/support-us/donation-forms/wendy-havran/ or sent to: Professor Wendy Havran Scholarship, c/o Jennifer Crosby, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 920137. Make checks payable to The Scripps Research Institute.

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