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Advances in Health and Medicine

Immunologists Target New Threats


Pitt’s immunology research dates back to Jonas Salk’s war against polio during the 1950s. Today, the University’s immunologists focus on organ transplantation, HIV/AIDS, and cancer research.

The foundations of Pitt's immunology department are in microbiology. In 1962, Pitt recruited Niels Jerne—who investigated antigen response and red blood cells—to lead its microbiology unit. He joined virologist Claudia Henry, who had worked with Julius Youngner and Jonas Salk on the polio vaccine. Jerne would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1984.

Pitt officially established its Department of Immunology in 2002. Today, under the leadership of department chair and Distinguished Professor Olivera Finn (who studies how T cells battle cancer), it investigates such leading-edge areas as immunoproteomics, the study of large sets of proteins involved in the immune response. Finn herself has secured funding for clinical trials of a vaccine to prevent lung cancer.

"I want to have people doing the newest immunology areas—immunogenomics [the relationship between genetics and immunology], immunoproteomics, signaling," Finn says. "We have great people here who try to understand how the immune system works in cancer, transplantation, and autoimmunity."