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Arch Hellen Med, 28(3), May-June 2011, 403-414


Immunology: Past, present and future. A retrospective of the evolution of immunology

J. Economidou
School of Medicine, University of Athens, Athens, Greece

A short history of the evolution of immunology is presented, starting from the year 1798, when Jenner developed the vaccine against smallpox, and leading up to the present day, with emphasis on the discoveries that are considered hallmarks for the understanding of the function of the immune system. In the second half of the 20th century a tremendous growth of immunological knowledge was achieved, due to major biotechnological advances. The most significant discoveries were the elucidation of: the structure and function of antibodies; the crucial role of the thymus for the differentiation of the T lymphocytes and the initiation of self tolerance; the mechanisms that lead to the enormous repertoire of antigen recognition by the Igs and TCR receptors through gene recombination; the hybridoma technology for the production of monoclonal antibodies. Recognition that the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a complex polymorphic system, is important not only for the expression of transplantation antigens, but also for its role in self recognition and the control of the immune response, has had a tremendous effect on the subsequent evolution of immunology. The manifestation of autoimmune disease is currently attributed to a particular combination of genetic, immunological, hormonal, and environmental factors, the interaction of which is still under investigation. It is anticipated that through experimental models in animal experiments new biological therapeutic interventions will be developed. Finally, the advances in molecular biology have given impetus to the development of immunogenetics and the identification of a large number of diseases caused by gene defects, including the primary immunodeficiencies. The new trends in research are represented by the application of global genomic and proteomic analyses for a "systems immunology" approach that will complement the current gene/factor studies.

Key words: Evolution of immunology, History.

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