By Nancy Parrish, Staff Writer
They came from as far away as Russia and Japan, and from as nearby as the NCI at Frederick/Fort Detrick campus, Bethesda, and Baltimore, all with one purpose: to honor the mentor, colleague, and friend they have in Joost Oppenheim, as he celebrated his 80th birthday.
But this was no ordinary birthday celebration. More than 100 scientists and friends gathered for an all-day symposium on August 11 to hear Oppenheim, M.D., reflect on his career at NCI and NIH. Many of the attendees and speakers had worked with Oppenheim over the course of his career, or had benefitted from his supervision and mentorship.
Oppenheim’s comments about his history at NIH were followed by presentations of current research from the Oppenheim laboratory, as well as presentations from other laboratories, both in this country and across the world, on breakthrough discoveries that have been made by extending Oppenheim’s original line of research.
A pioneer in the study of immune cell regulation and response, Oppenheim was instrumental in the discovery of cytokines, chemokines, defensins, and alarmins, which are substances produced by immune cells that enable them to communicate with one another and act as “first responders” to injury or infection. His group discovered and patented several of the chemokines, including interleukin-8 and monocyte chemotactic protein-1.
Today Oppenheim is chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunoregulation and head of its Cellular Immunology Section, as well as associate director of the Cancer and Inflammation Program, NCI Center for Cancer Research. His laboratory is focused more specifically on the role of alarmins as potent immunostimulants, as well as on the role of T-regulatory cells and myeloid-derived immunosuppressive cells in enabling tumors to evade the body’s immune responses. His group also studies pathways related to painful inflammatory responses, with the aim of developing ways to reduce pain sensitivity associated with tumors and infection.
Symposium organizer Howard Young, Ph.D., head, Cellular and Molecular Immunology Section, and deputy chief, Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, said the feedback from the event was “all positive.” In fact, he said, “many people asked if this event could be made an annual event.” The idea of honoring senior NIH immunologists with an annual symposium will be brought to the steering committee of the NIH Immunology Interest Group, Young said.