The Division of Immunology is focused on research, both basic and clinical, to translate the advances that have been made over the last 30 years in immunology into new therapies for immunological disorders. There is an ongoing effort to discover new molecules that can either suppress or enhance immunoreactivity. In addition, researchers are working on developing new, highly effective vaccines.
Research in the division is centered on elucidating the mechanisms that underpin the functioning of the immune system; specifically cytokine regulation of the immune response. Cytokines are responsible for regulating the activities of the cells that mediate immune/inflammatory reactions. The laboratory of Dr. Kendall Smith is focused on the interleukin-2 (IL-2) molecule, which is the first cytokine molecule to be identified, characterized and purified to homogeneity. The understanding of the IL-2/IL-2R interaction at the molecular level has led Smith to propose the Quantal Theory of Immunity, which explains how a definite number of IL-2/IL-2R interactions are counted by each cell, and that a cell reacts in a quantal (all-or-none) fashion only if a definite number of interactions have occurred. This new understanding of how the immune system functions at the molecular level has provided the impetus for Smith and his team to explore ways to use IL-2 therapeutically, in particular as an adjuvant for vaccines.