History of the Australasian Society For Immunology

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by Keven Turner

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Introduction

Two significant events, which were fundamental to the creation of the Australasian (formerly Australian) Society for Immunology, occurred in the late 1950s. These were the momentous decision by Sir Macfarlane Burnet in 1957 to change the research emphasis of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) from virology to immunology and the appointment in 1959 of Derrick Rowley to the Chair of Microbiology at the Adelaide University. The immunological community in Australia owes a great debt of gratitude to these two scientists. Macfarlane Burnet’s action provided the environment for the development of outstanding immunologists such as Sir Mac himself, Australia’s first Nobel Laureate in immunology, Gus Nossal, Don Metcalf, Jacques Miller, Alex Szenberg, Noel Warner, Ian Mackay and many others. Through their efforts the WEHI established a reputation as the foremost centre for immunological research in Australia and one of the most outstanding on the world’s stage – a position it still holds today.

With the upgrading of Microbiology in Adelaide University from a section of the Pathology Department to a full department, Derrick Rowley, an immunologist working in the Wright–Fleming Institute, London, was appointed inaugural Professor. Derrick arrived in Adelaide in January 1960 and Charles Jenkin followed towards the end of that year. At that time they were the only immunologists in Adelaide but over the intervening years several other Research Fellows, post-graduate and graduate students joined to make the Department one of the premier centres of immunology in the country. Apart from these two major players, three other small groups of immunologists existed in the early 1960s: one directed by Frank Fenner at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra which included Stephen Boyden and Bede Morris, one directed by Neville Stanley in Perth and the other directed by Bill Halliday in Queensland.

The Early Years

In November 1962 Derrick Rowley invited the key immunologists from each of these four centres to Adelaide for a scientific meeting which in reality was the birth of the ASI. The meeting was attended by Sir Macfarlane Burnet, Gus Nossal, Gordon Ada and Alex Szenberg from Melbourne, John Dineen from Sydney, Stephen Boyden from Canberra, Neville Stanley from Perth and Milton Salton, Geoff Cooper, Otto Westphal (visiting Adelaide from Germany), Charles Jenkin, Keven Turner, Peter Reeves and PhD students from Adelaide. Since the meeting was so successful the decision was made to hold similar meetings annually, with the next meeting to be held in Melbourne, hosted by the WEHI group. David Nelson from Sydney and Ritchie Nairn from Melbourne joined the foundation members at this second meeting and, soon after, the decision was taken that anyone with an interest in immunology was entitled to attend. Informality was the keynote of the organization at this stage as it had no formal rules, no constitution and no membership fees. The only administrative matter that required consideration was the updating of a list of those who might be interested in attending future meetings. This informality was, however, an unlikely scenario for the future as even by the time of the third meeting convened in Canberra by Kevin Lafferty on 3 and 4 December 1964, the group had been styled the ‘Australian Society of Immunologists’ (ASI) and a ‘Presidential Address’ was delivered by Macfarlane Burnet.

From 1964 to 1969 the venue for these annual meetings rotated between Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, with the local members accepting full responsibility for all aspects of the organization. Ian Mackay recalls that “these early informal meetings in the 1960s were not lacking in excitement. Particularly memorable were the stoushes between the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU and the Hall Institute on the significance of the thymus for early lymphopoiesis, and the B and T cell dichotomy, including Bede Morris’s famous B…..T wordplay, tactfully referred to by Derrick as ‘stimulating and hilarious’ and as ‘robust debate’ ”. The thymus has become an obsession with the more vigorous young members of the ASI who have made an award of a thymus (which in reality is a Bursa of Fabricius), encased in a rather prominent structure, to the presenter of the most hilarious poem at the annual dinners of the scientific conferences. Little has changed over the past 50 years!

In December 1969 a symposium on Aspects of Antibody Formation and Unresponsiveness’ was held in Melbourne under the name ‘The Australian Society of Immunologists’. Perth became accepted as an additional venue, with its inaugural meeting being held in December 1970. During this meeting Neville Stanley, the Chairman of the Organising Committee, acting on information provided by Gus Nossal, spoke about the necessity for the Society to adopt a formal constitution. Seated in the tropical grove adjacent to Winthrop Hall with the song of kookaburras and parrots in the background, those present considered the two compelling arguments for this: (a) that it was necessary to fulfil the requirements for membership in the newly created International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) and (b) that it would assist in the process of obtaining subsidies and reduced airfares for members wishing to attend the first International Congress of Immunology to be held in Washington in August 1971. The motion to adopt a constitution, moved by Gus Nossal and seconded by Gordon Ada, was passed unanimously. The Organising Committee for the 1970 meeting in Perth, Neville Stanley, Michael Alpers and Keven Turner, was charged with the responsibility of drafting the first constitution, which was ratified by the remaining members of the Constitution Committee in time to meet the deadline of the end of March 1971 for submission to the IUIS. This constitution was further ratified by all members attending the annual meeting of the Society held in Melbourne in December 1971, which in reality became the first annual meeting of the properly constituted Australian Society for Immunology.

The changes incorporated in 1988 followed the Society becoming an Incorporated body which allowed it to act as a body duly recognized in law, giving legal protection to Council and the membership of ASI. It also formalized the procedure for electing members, giving due status to membership of the ASI as well as defining the terms of office of councillors. This extensively modified constitution was unanimously accepted at the AGM held in February 1988. It provided for a Council comprising the President, Vice President or Immediate Past President, Honorary Secretary, Treasurer and representatives of all the States and Territories of Australia. It also gave the flexibility to affiliate with other societies with related interests, and created several categories of membership such as ordinary, honorary, sustaining, student and associate. There were more amendments in 1994, 2009 and 2010. The latest version of the ASI constitution is available from the ASI website (www.immunology.org.au).