Immunological Self


Twenty Second Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2007

Lecture 7   :   2 March

Philippa Marrack

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Denver, Colorado



The immune response protects individuals against infections. In order to do this effectively the immune system must be able to distinguish between invading organisms and its own host, attacking the former whilst leaving the latter unharmed. This is not such an easy matter given that invading organisms occur in many forms, as viruses, bacteria, yeasts, worms and so on and that the invaders are constantly mutating to avoid attack by their potential hosts. Given the difficulty of the task it is not surprising that the immune system has evolved many ways to distinguish between invaders and its own host. The mechanisms used fall into two classes. One class involves recognition of features of the invader which are not present on the host. If this type of recognition occurs, the target is destroyed. Another class involves recognition of features of the host which are not present on the invader. If this type of recognition occurs, the immune response is inhibited and the target is not destroyed. Thus the immunologic self is defined in two ways, either by the absence of something foreign and/or by the presence of something familiar.


Philippa Marrack took her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at New Hall, Cambridge. For her Ph.D. she worked with Dr. Alan Munro in the Department of Biochemistry and at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology on Hills Road. In 1971 she left the UK for the University of California at San Diego, where she did postdoctoral work with Dr. Richard Dutton. Since then she has worked at the University of Rochester in upstate New York and at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Colorado. She is currently an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Professor at National Jewish and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Because of a lucky break and persuasion by Dr. Munro, in 1967 Dr. Marrack began to work on T cells, crucial cells of the immune system which had been discovered independently by Drs. Miller and Good only a few years earlier. In collaboration with her husband, Dr. John Kappler, Dr. Marrack discovered how T cells act to help other cells reject infections and found out how T cells distinguish between invading organisms and their own host. These investigators also showed that some bacteria and viruses are particularly damaging because they produce powerful stimulants of the immune system which, paradoxically, kill rather than protect their hosts. Recently Dr. Marrack has been studying adjuvants, crucial components of human and animal vaccines. Dr. Marrack is a member of the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences, USA. She has received many awards including the Royal Society Wellcome Foundation Prize, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize-Columbia University, the Rabbi Shai Shackner Prize-University of Jerusalem, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association of Immunologists and the L'Oreal UNESCO Women in Science Award. 

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