AAI President's Message


Gary A. Koretzky, M.D., Ph.D. (AAI President, 2021-2022

Professor, Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine

Vice Provost for Academic Integration, Cornell University

Director, Cornell Center for Immunology

This is an incredible time to be an immunologist! In the last few years, discoveries in fundamental immunology have informed the development of amazing new therapeutic agents that have revolutionized the care for patients with myriad disorders. Most recently, the world has also relied on immunologists for its response to the worst pandemic in more than a century. Today, it is impossible to scan a newspaper without encountering words like “antigen,” “T cells,” “checkpoint inhibitor,” or “cytokine storm”—terms that we are more used to reading in the classic Bill Paul or Charlie Janeway textbooks. Truly, immunology is now front and center on the world’s stage.

With this as a backdrop, I am both honored and humbled to serve as the president of The American Association of Immunologists (AAI). The AAI brings together thousands of talented scientists at all stages of their careers who collectively have made discoveries that are literally transforming our world. From understanding the most fundamental underpinnings of the body’s defense systems to taking this knowledge to the clinic to decrease mortality and morbidity, AAI members continue to have an enormous impact on our society. It is a privilege to lead our organization, particularly at a time when the science of immunology has captured the world’s attention. In considering my priorities for the coming year, I am mindful of the AAI mission statement “…to be a society dedicated to advancing the field of immunology and fostering development opportunities for researchers at every career stage. [AAI] members work together to address common interests and push forward the boundaries of knowledge.” I hope that our members will agree that with the many programs and activities we sponsor, the AAI is true to this mission. My overarching goal as president will be to help our society advance this mission further by concentrating on several specific action items.

Advocacy and Public Engagement

For years, the AAI has had an intensive and successful effort in advocating to Congress for support of basic science research and, in particular, for immunology. I have personally enjoyed many “Hill Days” and have learned a great deal from our public policy staff as they guide us in addressing the most essential budgetary items for each legislative session. Of course, in the coming year, we will continue to support this effort as the importance of funding for fundamental research has never been greater. Additionally, I hope to work with our members and the AAI staff to broaden our outreach. As the largest society of immunologists in the world, the AAI is perfectly positioned to engage more broadly with the public to explain the basic tenets of our field and help to counter the pervasive misinformation and “fake news” that abounds. One of our priorities for the coming year will be to develop programs to help our members “spread the word” about the importance of the fundamental science of immunology and how discoveries made in immunology laboratories can be translated into benefits for our society.

Member and Trainee Support and Educational Programs

I am extremely proud of the efforts of AAI to identify ways to support our members through grants, awards, and educational programs. Each year, the AAI Council deliberates new ideas and opportunities to elevate this mission. I encourage all of our members to view the AAI website (www.aai.org) and discover programs that fit their needs or those of their trainees. While continuing to support grants we established in past years, the Council recently added new opportunities, including short-term awards that provide resources for travel to a colleague’s laboratory to learn a new technique, assistance for members who have taken a pause in their scientific careers and now seek to re-engage, and grants to help immunologists bridge knowledge gaps in the ever-increasingly complex world of computational biology. I strongly encourage all AAI members to consider our award and grant programs and to apply for those that are relevant for their circumstances. In the coming year, the AAI staff will continue to evaluate these new and continuing programs and report on their impact to the Council.

The AAI continues to support trainees with travel awards for meetings and to confer recognition on members at all career stages. Please review the awards for which nominations are required and put forward names of deserving members. The success of our awards programs relies on a robust slate of nominees. Importantly, for these and all of our award and grant programs, our goal is to be inclusive and to provide opportunities and recognition to our entire diverse community.

The past 16 months saw disruptions in nearly everything we do as a society. Even so, the AAI educational programs flourished. Due to the hard work of AAI staff and the dedication of our course instructors, a quick pivot to a virtual format for the introductory and advanced immunology courses resulted in record attendance. Feedback from course attendees was, as usual, phenomenal. One important goal for this year will be to build on this experience, considering whether changes imposed by the pandemic should be retained, refined, or reconsidered altogether. We will know more with time.

Another unique activity supported by AAI is a history program. Assisted by professional historians Dr. John Emrich and Charles Richter, the rich history of AAI and advances made by its members are being documented. AAI also has its most iconic members memorialized in an Oral History Project. View these recordings and hear the words of the pillars of our discipline at www.aai.org/About/History; it is a humbling experience.

The Journal of Immunology and ImmunoHorizons

I know that AAI members share my pride in our flagship publication, The Journal of Immunology (The JI), the oldest (est. 1916) and largest journal in the field. This journal has been a tribute to the field of immunology and serves as a legacy. I am grateful to our many members who gift the field with countless hours as editorial board members, and to the thousands of volunteers who carefully review every submitted paper. I am especially grateful to the authors who memorialize their research in our journals. The AAI Council meets regularly with The JI Editor-in-Chief Dr. Eugene Oltz and the professional AAI staff as we collectively strategize to meet the ever-growing challenges facing non-commercial publishing, a landscape that is continuously shifting. Under Dr. Oltz’s leadership, The JI has maintained its impressive overall review time from submission to decision, while still ensuring that each manuscript is given a fair and full review. The editors and staff are particularly mindful that the review process must be transparent and that the critiques are reasonable and helpful to our authors. The JI provides an important service to our community, and I encourage our members to submit their most exciting work.

Similarly, I am pleased to report that ImmunoHorizons (IH) is also moving in an excellent direction with an increase in the number and quality of submissions. This relatively new and fully open-access journal is under the creative guidance of Editor-in-Chief Dr. Mark Kaplan. For those not familiar with IH, it considers manuscripts that have not been accepted into The JI but are of scientific merit, as well as new, yet-unreviewed reports. We have all had excellent research that was of value but not quite complete or was descriptive. IH is intended to assist with the dissemination of this work in a fair and rapid manner. Authors of articles not selected for publication in The JI may choose to send the JI reviews along with their transfer submission to IH. Time from submission to decision for these transfer articles has been as little as three days and is an average of five; time from submission to decision for new submissions averages just 14 days. ImmunoHorizons is also publishing a series called “On The Horizon,” invited articles from junior faculty who are establishing themselves in their areas and have ideas about how a field should be developing as it advances. The outstanding working relationship that Drs. Kaplan and Oltz have developed will help our newer journal continue to grow and flourish.

Re-establishing Community Post Pandemic

At this writing, COVID-19 restrictions in the United States are being lifted at a rapid pace, thanks to falling viral prevalence due to the amazing vaccines now available. While we must be mindful that regions of the world remain in the throes of the pandemic and that risk of resurgence of disease in the United States still exists, we can be hopeful that gatherings of our community will be increasingly possible over the coming year. It will be wonderful to once again welcome AAI members to in-person meetings. In that regard, the AAI will continue to contribute to regional gatherings of immunologists, facilitating discussions and collaborations. I am extremely excited about our upcoming annual meeting, IMMUNOLOGY2022™. This will be our first in-person meeting after what will have been a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, and it promises to be one of the best meetings ever. It will be a wonderful opportunity for colleagues to network and to forge new connections among our members. I hope to see many of you in Portland next May!

Recognition of Our Volunteers and the AAI Staff

Before closing, I would like to call out the individuals who make the AAI work—my fellow councilors who provide the vision for our future, our members who volunteer countless hours to AAI activities, and the outstanding professionals who support all of our activities and programming. I have learned a great deal from being on the Council since 2016, working with dedicated colleagues and studying how my predecessors have navigated their presidencies. I am fully committed to the difficult task of filling their shoes. Over the coming weeks, I will be introducing myself to the members of each AAI standing committee to learn more about their important work, to hear about any pressing issues, and to thank them for their service. The committee meetings I have attended thus far are topical and interesting. Indeed, I have been inspired further by witnessing firsthand the focus and commitment of our committee members. In the coming year, I will continue to support committees in their work and look forward to learning about their new ideas and concerns.

I am particularly grateful to the AAI staff under the guidance of Dr. Michele Hogan, our chief executive officer; their expertise and dedication are the true engine for our professional society. Whenever I visit the AAI offices or attend the annual meetings, I am struck by their quiet competence, grace, and good humor. We are fortunate to have such committed and knowledgeable individuals. I will make it a priority to work with Michele to provide even greater support and recognition of those working behind the scenes. Thank you so much for your tireless efforts!

I am looking forward to another outstanding year for the AAI and encourage our members to contact me with ideas, feedback, and any concerns. IMMUNOLOGY2022™ in Portland will provide a much-needed reprise of the annual opportunity for our immunology community to share their science and fellowship. I am eager to reconnect with many of you there!

(Posted July 2022)

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