Dr. Ralph M. Steinman of Rockefeller University
will deliver the 2008 Kinyoun Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. in Masur Auditorium,
Bldg. 10. His talk, titled “Dendritic Cells: A Key Target for Vaccine Science,” will focus on a career-changing finding—the discovery of dendritic
cells—that he was part of three decades ago. While the understanding of dendritic cell function continues to expand, it is already evident
that they have the ability to turn on or turn off areas of the immune system, thus either triggering a response or silencing an immune response.
According to Steinman, immunologic science primarily involves reduction—taking cells and molecules apart, observing and understanding
their different functions. There is an imbalance,
he says, because too little focus is placed on putting those molecules back together to observe and learn about the whole system.
“We need to set the standards a little higher,
consider the whole immune repertoire, the whole beauty of the immune system and what it can do,” he notes.
In 1972, while studying immune system responses, Steinman and his mentor, the late Dr. Zanvil Cohn, discovered and named dendritic
cells. The publication of this discovery in 1973 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine revolutionized our understanding of the immune system. Steinman’s discovery created a major scientific discipline. Today, investigators worldwide study dendritic cells and their multiple
roles in immune regulation. That collective body of research has identified dendritic cells as critical sentinels of the immune system involved in early immune responses important in graft rejection, resistance to tumors, autoimmune diseases and diseases
such as HIV/AIDS.
About 70 percent of the research currently under way in Steinman’s laboratory at Rockefeller focuses on designing a vaccine against HIV. In his research group, Steinman has a clinical team that sees patients who are recruited into studies of HIV, cancer and other infectious disease. All findings are integrated throughout
the 20-member lab group so everyone can share the same methods and concepts—
a productive learning method he acquired from Cohn.
Steinman received his B.S. from McGill University in 1963 and went on to earn his M.D. at Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1968. After completing his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he joined the laboratory of Cohn and Dr. James G. Hirsch at Rockefeller University as a postdoctoral
fellow and moved up through the ranks to become a full professor by 1988. He was named the Henry G. Kunkel professor, a title he currently holds, in 1995, and director of the Chris Browne Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases in 1998.
Steinman is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the academy’s Institute of Medicine. Among his numerous awards are the Gairdner Foundation International Award; the Freidrich-Sasse, Emil von Behring and Robert Koch Prizes; the Rudolf Virchow and Coley Medals; the New York City Mayor’s Award for Scientific Excellence; the Novartis Prize in Basic Immunology and the Albert Lasker Award for Medical Research.