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Dyer Lecturer Probes Persistence Of Cellular Memory

By Anne A. Oplinger

Cellular memory, one of the immune system's most astounding characteristics, is the subject of the 50th R.E. Dyer lecture scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 19. The lecture, "Immunological Memory: Lessons for Vaccine Development," will be presented by Dr. Rafi Ahmed at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

Anyone who has had chicken pox, mumps, measles or certain other childhood diseases will never have that disease again, thanks to the remarkable ability of the immune system to "remember" the initial encounter with the organisms that cause these diseases and to mount a swift counter-offensive if the same invader is met again. Happily, getting sick is not the only way to acquire such long-term immunity. Vaccines give the immune system a virtual experience of illness — enough to evoke cell memory, but not enough to cause the actual disease.

Dr. Rafi Ahmed

Ahmed, director of Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, is a leading expert on how T lymphocytes (a kind of immune system cell) develop memory following virus infection or vaccination. His research focuses on the precise cellular and molecular events that differentiate an activated T cell from a na´ve one. Once primed by exposure to a disease, memory T cells acquire a kind of "hair-trigger" that helps them react very quickly and forcefully should the need arise. "If we understand how immune memory is generated and sustained, we should be able to develop better vaccines," notes Ahmed.

A vaccine's ability to confer long-term immunity to disease is one of its most important characteristics. For example, many Americans are currently wondering if the smallpox vaccine they received 30 or more years ago would still protect them if they encountered the disease today. Although he will not present data pertaining specifically to smallpox, Ahmed's lecture will address the key question of long-term immunity.

A native of India, he earned his undergraduate degree from Osmania University, India, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Following postdoctoral training at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, he joined the department of microbiology and immunology at UCLA School of Medicine. He was at UCLA until 1995, when he moved to Emory University School of Medicine. At Emory, he is the Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholar in vaccine research and professor of microbiology and immunology. He has served on numerous scientific advisory boards, including that of the Ministry of Science in India. He was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999. He has published more than 140 articles and reviews and is currently principal investigator on two NIAID grants.

The Dyer lecture was established to honor Dr. Rolla Dyer upon his retirement as NIH director in 1950. An expert in infectious diseases, he demonstrated how endemic typhus is spread and helped develop a vaccine to protect against the disease. He served as director of research at Emory University until 1957, and died in 1971.

All are invited to join Ahmed for light refreshments following the lecture. For more information and reasonable accommodation, contact Hilda Madine at 594-5595.


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