Cambridge University Reporter

Report of the General Board on the establishment of a Professorship of Comparative Immunogenetics

The GENERAL BOARD beg leave to report to the University as follows :

1. Infectious diseases are a major cause of human morbidity and mortality worldwide. They also spread through animal populations with potentially grave effects on ecology and on the social structures in which animals and humans are interdependent, such as the management of mammals, birds, and fish for food. Of particular importance in global health today are those infections that spread from animal reservoirs to humankind. Notable examples include infection by parasites (e.g. trypanosomiasis), bacteria (e.g. tuberculosis), and viruses (e.g. influenza). These are responsible for endemic and sometimes epidemic infections, in either case incurring immeasurable costs in terms of human quality of life and mortality. Recently, members of the Schools of the Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine, together with colleagues at the Sanger Institute, have combined in an initiative to address the global problems of infectious disease in a co-ordinated fashion (the Cambridge Infectious Disease Consortium).

2. One important aspect of these problems is the process whereby infectious organisms are identified and responded to by the host (the generation of immunity) and, in parallel, the genetic alterations in the infectious organism that permit it to escape from host immunity (the process of immune evasion). The understanding of these critical processes depends upon knowledge of the immune mechanisms both in humans and in the animal reservoirs. The University has many world leaders in the field of human immunology but much less is known of the mechanisms of host defence in birds and fish.

3. The School of the Biological Sciences therefore recommend the establishment of a Professorship in Comparative Immunogenetics. This would create a focus of excellence in the genetics that underpin host defence in those animals that form the reservoirs for major human infection. The establishment of this Professorship at this time has strategic relevance, in the context of concern over an impending epidemic of Avian influenza. It will also add value to high-quality work proceeding across the University in the pathogenesis of infection by other viruses, and by bacteria and parasites.

4. Funding for the post has been identified within existing resources allocated to the Departments of Pathology and Veterinary Medicine and to the School of Clinical Medicine. Newly refurbished laboratories are available in the Department of Pathology, together with suitable space within the Department of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to research activities, it is anticipated that the successful candidate will contribute to the teaching programmes of the School of the Biological Sciences.

5. The General Board are assured that the Professorship can be expected to attract an excellent field of candidates. The Board have agreed that election to the Professorship should be made by a specially constituted Board of Electors, in accordance with Statute D, XV, 5, and that candidature should be open to all persons whose work falls within the general field of the title of the office. The Board have also agreed that the Department to which the Professorship is assigned should be determined once the research interests of the person elected to the Professorship are known.

6. The General Board therefore recommend:

That a Professorship of Comparative Immunogenetics be established in the University, with effect from 1 October 2006, for a single tenure, to be assigned to a Department in the School of the Biological Sciences once the research interests of the person elected to the Professorship are known.