AAI President's Message


Linda A. Sherman, Ph.D. (AAI President, 2014–15)

Department of Immunology and Microbial Sciences
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA

It is a great honor to serve as President of AAI, and I am grateful to all of you for this opportunity to serve an organization that has been an integral part of my career for over 30 years. When I first started out as an immunologist, the AAI annual meeting provided an opportunity to meet the people behind the names in journal articles and to network with other postdocs in the field. Later, I was proud to be selected to speak in workshops and later still, in symposia. Also, the first opportunities I received to review manuscripts were provided by our scientific journal, The Journal of Immunology. I am always still proud when I see my papers published in The JI. It is the one journal that all immunologists hold in high regard because it consistently maintains high quality and, importantly, is unparalleled in the fairness of its review policies and the expertise of its reviewers. We are fortunate to have had a long line of devoted editors, including our new Editor-in-Chief, Pam Fink, maintain these standards.

I mentioned some of the milestones in my career that would not have been possible without AAI. However, at our 2014 annual meeting in Pittsburgh, I was reminded of a different way that AAI ties us to our fellow immunologists—one that has nothing to do with the opportunity to network and hear all about the latest research breakthroughs and gossip, although there is always plenty of that to provide excitement. It is at our annual meeting that I get to see so many of my colleagues, whom I have known since the start of my career, and my trainees, whom I have known since the start of their careers. Although we are now scattered all over the country, it is at our annual meeting that we have the opportunity to reconnect and catch up on our scientific and personal lives. We may not see each other often, but there is a continuity that transcends time (once a year-or every few years) and space (east coast-west coast-and sometimes in between). We are truly an enduring community, and I want to thank AAI and its extraordinary staff for greatly enriching our lives by making this possible.

Thinking about our individual histories in immunology brings to mind the AAI Centennial Timeline, which was spectacularly debuted at the AAI centennial celebration in 2013. The timeline—researched and documented by AAI historian, John Emrich—depicts the progress of our remarkable discipline over the past 100 years, portraying the rich history of AAI and its members. The timeline features the accomplishments of many historically eminent immunologists and highlights the paradigm shifts that have propelled our discipline. We each, however, have our own parallel immunology "timeline" in that we both witness and experience surprising breakthroughs and weather our own professional highs and lows. This is our shared history, and we should all be very proud to be part of the community of immunologists privileged to contribute to an ever-evolving immunology timeline. To me, AAI is the embodiment of this community.

I am confident that deeper understanding of the immune system will continue to provide new therapies for disease. However, since we can never be sure where these discoveries will come from, we must be vigilant in reminding those who have the power over the "purse strings" that they should cast a very wide net in funding diverse areas in the basic science of immunology. This is critical if we are to maintain a healthy community that remains free to explore all avenues of research. Often, ideas may take many years to reach full fruition. As one example, until recently, cancer immunotherapy was considered insufficiently robust and too unwieldy to be the basis for cancer treatment. Yet just this year, cancer immunology was named the 2013 breakthrough of the year by the editors of Science. I’m sure many of you believe, as do I, that there will emerge many immune based cures for diseases not conventionally considered to be of immune origin. It behooves all of us to spread this message to anyone who asks what we do as immunologists—we work to understand, prevent, and cure essentially all major diseases, not just the ones that are obviously of infectious or autoimmune origin.

I was very fortunate to have been a part of a generation of scientists that came of age at a time when the scientific enterprise in this nation was accelerating in growth, propelled by increased funding of the NIH. We were welcomed into the field by the opportunity of research grants and academic positions. Over the years, as money became tight, we have relied on Lauren Gross, the AAI Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, and the members of our Committee on Public Affairs, to remind Congress of the importance of NIH funding to the economic and physical health of this country. Such efforts remain the most important way we can help Congress understand the urgency of approving a robust NIH budget. Even as we continue to advocate for increased funding, we must face a new reality: an era of shrinking funds and fewer independent research opportunities, extending very possibly well into the coming generation. It would be irresponsible of me to tell you this will change in the near future, because our NIH leaders have already decided that changes must be made to adapt to this new normal. We must face the realization that if the biomedical research enterprise, as it currently operates, is to continue, we must find ways to supplement NIH funding with additional funding sources.

We are extremely fortunate that, under the stewardship of AAI Executive Director Michele Hogan and her exceptional staff, AAI has thrived. This has allowed us to offer new programs and additional funding to our members. AAI was already offering increasing numbers of travel grants to our members to attend national and international meetings and has reached out to our junior members by offering awards for their excellent presentations and posters at local meetings. Recognizing the need to do more, Council this past year introduced several new initiatives that will directly benefit our members’ laboratories in this exceptionally difficult funding atmosphere. I am particularly proud of the new "AAI Careers in Immunology Fellowship" program, which will provide one year of support to a pre- or post-doctoral member of a lab-in-need. There is a tremendous need for such alternative sources of funding in the research community. This represents a new direction for AAI in its efforts to assist our members, and one from which there is no turning back. We hope to find ways we may expand on this program. To do so we may need to "think outside the box" in seeking additional sources of funds. Perhaps we can also help our members identify new sources of funding for their own labs, be they philanthropy or other funding agencies. In these tough times, it is clear that we need to help ourselves and each other. Through the community and efforts of AAI, I believe we can do this, and we can make a difference.

(Posted July 10, 2014)

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