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Friday December 11, 2020

 

 

Senga Whittingham


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A poet. I grossly over-estimated my talents.
How many hours of sleep do you get?
Varies.
How many coffees/ teas do you drink per day?
During lockdown a cup of coffee at the end of a walk proved therapeutic, and the number of teas are those required to maintain fluid balance.
Which immune cell is your favourite? 
The B lymphocyte.   The B lymphocyte was yet unnamed in 1960 when overnight I underwent my conversion to belief in autoimmunity.   I was cross-matching blood for a seriously ill woman who required blood urgently because she was rapidly hemolysing her red cells.    According to my tests no blood was compatible but, one of all the reactions was stronger and showed specificity for one particular antigen.   She possessed the antigen so she was reacting with herself!    I spent the rest of the night repeatedly eluting the antibody from her cells and repeatedly testing it against my panel of cells to convince myself    I was witnessing an autoimmune reaction.
What is your favourite hobby?
Reading.
Who is your favourite celebrity and why?
Dr Anthony Fauci.   Coming from a trained physician, immunologist, administrator and scientist his advice presented to the American people and delivered succinctly and without reference to a leadership that has been unwilling to accept the evidence, has shown what an outstanding person he is.
What is your favourite paper?
M. R. Lerner, J.A. Steitz. (1979).  
Antibodies to small RNAs complexed with proteins are produced by patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.   USA 76, 11, 5495-99.
This publication became a favourite because it led to many satisfying years of research for me.
If you were stuck on a desert island, which 3 items would you most want to have with you? 
A good book, a life raft with flares and a large hamper of food.
What is your life motto?
I have too many to list.
What words of wisdom do you want to share with young and emerging Immunologists?
To those in diagnostic testing laboratories, understand the specificity and sensitivity of your assay systems whether they be automated, kit or manual and strive for technical accuracy. You will earn respect for your contribution to diagnosis.  

To those in research laboratories, understand and believe in your project.   Question, read, present and publish. They are all part of the learning process. The road may be difficult and challenging but deeply satisfying and rewarding.
You received ASI Honorary Life Membership in 1992 in recognition of your significant contributions to Australian and New Zealand Immunology and are one of our longstanding members.
What changes at ASI have you witnessed over the years?
The ASI can probably date its roots to a meeting of a small group of brilliant minds who were striving to nurture academic excellence but felt they were working in isolation. They were microbiologists with an interest in immunology although, then, immunology was not even grudgingly recognised as an independent specialty. However, the future held promise and those who were interested started to meet annually and informally in the main southern centres to participate in lively discussions on their ideas about their findings in the cutting-edge research they were vigorously pursuing. Later the ASI was formally established so it could set up an effective bureaucracy to support this enthusiastic group and from there the Society has flourished.  Hopefully, the ASI will never lose sight of its roots and every attendee of the meetings, particularly the younger members who, having enjoyed the social occasion, will go home with their minds ablaze with ideas, knowing there is an exciting and productive future for them at the forefront of basic and applied science in immunology.       

 

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