Emory Hosts 4th Annual Southeastern Immunology Symposium

Zachary Ende

Originally published November 23, 2015

What started out as a lovely Saturday morning at the start of an Atlanta summer quickly disintegrated into a discussion about lungs infected with both the influenza virus and the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae by Dr. Martha Alexander-Miller from Wake Forest University. But since this was an immunology symposium, the audience loved it. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology hosted the 4th annual Southeastern Immunology Symposium at the Emory University School of Medicine this past June 13th and 14th. I was in attendance as a PhD candidate presenting a poster on HIV transmission.

Emory researchers made up about half of the talks and poster presentations. Other universities with representatives presenting included Duke, UAB, Vanderbilt, UNC, UGA, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Georgia Regents, UCSF, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. The CDC, GeoVax, Inc. and St. Jude Children’s Hospital also participated.

The keynote addresses were well received. Dr. Wayne Yokoyama from Washington University described interesting data on tissue resident NK cells. Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone from the University of California, San Francisco presented on Tregs and their potential clinical value in autoimmunity. Dr. Olivera Finn discussed cancer vaccines currently in the clinic during end stage cancer and beyond.

The sponsors set up booths to sell new products either for the sake of making money or advancing scientific endeavors—not mutually exclusive—while the organizing committee received praise for the selection of scientific and alimentary delights. For example, Ryan Martinez, an Emory MD/PhD student in the Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis Program, discussed how precursor and expanded CD4 T cell frequency for a given antigen specificity has been underestimated by the field. Also, for example, the salmon was good.

The symposium culminated with the new director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Dr. Paul Johnson, discussing lessons learned from an attenuated SIV strain that protects macaques from reinfection. In the end, collaborations were made, post-doctoral interviews secured for graduate students, and immunology learned by all—just for the price of a $35 registration fee and a summer weekend.