AAI President’s Message

Mark M. DavisMark M. Davis, Ph.D.

Burt and Marion Avery Family Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Director, Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, Stanford University School of Medicine

Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

AAI President, 2022–2023

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as President of AAI for this coming year. Since its founding in 1913, AAI has been a mainstay in the field, disseminating important research findings through The Journal of Immunology and more recently ImmunoHorizons, and through its annual meeting, which this year we were able to celebrate again in person for the first time since 2019. Zoom fatigue is a very real phenomenon, and in-person meetings are so much more rewarding!

I am reminded of how I wandered into immunology as a graduate student in 1977 and was almost immediately swept up into the fast pace of both antibody gene rearrangement work and the recombinant DNA revolution. Ever since, as various mysteries were dispelled, others remained, and each decade has brought tremendous progress, often unimaginable in the prior era. This unfortunately led some very prominent immunologists of the 60s, 70s, and 80s to say, essentially, “Sorry kids, it’s all over, we did all the important stuff,” as they settled into retirement or moved on to figure out how the brain works (foolishly). Luckily, their reports of the demise of the field were premature; the field hasn’t missed a beat, and immunologists continue to move ahead with remarkable creativity and energy to meet new challenges, ever more in the public eye.

For those relatively new to immunology, from someone who has been around as long as I have, the best advice I can give is to not get too used to the questions and approaches that have defined this past decade because they will change—often abruptly—as new approaches and questions arise. It will surprise no one that I think one of the main challenges of the current decade centers on human immunology, which is full of mysteries all its own, including (what I suspect) are unique mechanisms to understand, especially as they relate to our perpetual evolutionary duels with our many infectious diseases. Our understanding in this area is still at quite a primitive state, as highlighted by this recent pandemic that never wants to leave us. And of course, this will not be the last pandemic. Bird flu, antibiotic resistant TB, and more (monkey pox!) are waiting in the wings. Of course, as drawn to the conundrums of human immunology as I am, I admit there are plenty of mysteries in the immune systems of other species as well. The variety of how different immune systems have evolved is both amazing and instructive. The field thrives on thousands of different visions—and while sometimes it seems like a Tower of Babel, it reflects mostly how vibrant and diverse the field is, and how we are all the beneficiaries of this.

Speaking of diversity, it has been my very vivid experience that scientists with different life experiences and training often approach problems in very different ways, and this increases the chances of a breakthrough and enriches our understanding of the field. Thus, AAI is very firmly committed to enhancing the diversity of the immunology community by creating a welcoming and inclusive society and appreciating and embracing the unique perspectives our members bring to the creative process. This is important for good science. It is the smart thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

We all know that a life in science is full of disappointments; failed experiments, blind alleys, rejected papers, and late nights. We also know that criticism plays an important role in stress testing data and its interpretation, ultimately creating solid foundations to build upon. Too often, however, criticism is more about scoring points. At its worst, it is a reviewer intent on trashing papers that disagree with their prejudices. Therefore, a very important mission of AAI is to encourage immunologists, especially students and postdocs, to endure the inevitable setbacks. AAI pursues this mission in great part by offering hundreds of travel awards every year to AAI and other meetings, arranging the best courses in immunology available, financing millions of dollars a year to support training opportunities, and, importantly, affording immunologists the opportunity to speak in symposia, make short podium presentations, and present posters of their work. All these opportunities allow scientists to get useful feedback and gain recognition. We also work diligently, especially with our industry sponsors, to bestow awards on our most accomplished investigators of all career stages at the annual meeting so that you can hear their stories and be inspired. Ultimately, of course, the greatest of encouragements you can have in science, in this modern age of exploration, is to look at your experimental results and say “Toll!” (German for “Wow!”), as Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard said when she looked through the microscope and discovered how the toll gene changed the body plan of drosophila—a breakthrough that helped her win a Nobel Prize. There is nothing more encouraging than that! And AAI wants to help you get there.

With respect to the organization itself, for 26 years we have benefited from the incredible leadership of Dr. Michele Hogan, the CEO of AAI. When she first came, we were struggling financially, barely making it from one year to the next, and had a skeleton staff. Now thanks to her tireless efforts, we are among the most financially secure of professional societies, hosting one of the largest annual meetings for immunologists, and able to fund the plethora of awards and programs briefly mentioned above. But as announced at the annual meeting, Michele is stepping down, and we are now engaged in the process of searching for a new leader that we can only hope will be as talented and capable. Thank you, Michele—you will be an incredibly hard act to follow!

It is also appropriate to acknowledge how hard the AAI staff has worked this past year as we transition out of pandemic shut-down mode into not quite business as usual, and back to the in-person annual meeting and courses. It’s been a time full of challenges and setbacks, but the staff have met these all with grace and dedication!

I also want to extend my profound thanks to Gary Koretzky, just now finishing his term as President of AAI. Gary has worked tirelessly to steer us through the turbulence of these plague years, with unfailing patience and calm, winning the respect and admiration of us all. Luckily for me, he is obliged to stay on as Past President, and so, hopefully, I will have even more time to actually learn how to do this job properly!

Lastly, I have been inspired by Gary to continue the effort he launched to make AAI more visible in the public eye and be seen as a trusted source of information about immunology as it relates to public health. This is a long-term project, but tremendously important given the misinformation that permeates the public sphere. This has reached epidemic proportions, so to speak, and we have been encouraged by top leaders at NIH and elsewhere to speak out against what is politely called “vaccine hesitancy,” but is more about how conspiracy theories and blatantly false information can spread rapidly through modern media and destroy the lives and health of millions of people. As immunologists, we need to do whatever we can to counteract this insanity. Working with you, I am determined to build on what Gary has started and look forward to our making a meaningful difference in safeguarding and promoting accurate information and dispelling false claims in our public discourse.

© The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.
1451 Rockville Pike, Suite 650, Rockville, Maryland 20852
Phone: (301) 634-7178 | Fax: (301) 634-7887