Injections of knowledge

Therapeutic Immunology
December 8, 1995

Immunology was born as an independent discipline in the 19th century when Louis Pasteur, recognising the pioneering work of the English physician Edward Jenner, coined the term vaccination. Jenner witnessed and perhaps even practised variolation which involved the grinding up and inhalation of smallpox scabs or their inoculation into healthy individuals. A risky business, perhaps, but by all accounts less hazardous than the 30 per cent mortality of natural infection recorded at the end of the 18th century by Voltaire. But it was Jenner who realised that inoculation with cowpox, which carries essentially no risk to humans, could also protect against smallpox. So from its inception, immunology has thrived as an empirical discipline with immense therapeutic potential. Indeed, in the second issue of Therapeutic Immunology, Jonathan Weber points out in a sanguine review of the status of HIV and Aids vaccines that, "smallpox has been globally eradicated; measles and polio are now controlled in much of the world and the secondary complications of rubella and mumps can now be prevented". All this has been achieved through immunisation; let us call it therapeutic immunology.

Therapeutic Immunology exp- ects to occupy a niche in an abundance of specialist journals that cater for basic and clinical experimental scientists. Each issue contains two or three papers of primary research and up to four review papers. In the four issues that I have seen, the reviews outclass the research papers. This may not be surprising because the "impact factor" of a particular journal has become a key arbiter of grant and career success. Researchers may, therefore, be resistant to testing their better publications on a newcomer of indeterminate standing in the established rank.

The reviews span the subjects that one might expect constitute therapeutic immunology: the topics range from the necessary dissertations on immunomodulatory drugs through particular cytokine receptor pairs. Most are well chosen for subject matter and for authors. And most meet the essential criteria of the sound review: they include background in sufficient detail that will allow access to the uninitiated, yet refrain from either oversimplifying or overcomplicating the concepts. Almost hidden among these, one can find the extraordinary and the unexpected: the paper on the CD28 costimulatory pathway offers a lucid analysis of the role of this topical molecule in costimulating T cells to divide and produce cytokines; but a marvellous critique of lymphocyte development in genetically manipulated mice was for me the highlight of the first volume.

The modern medical problems of transplantation and cancer, and the ancient problems caused by infectious diseases are the triad of irregularities that challenge biomedical research. All of these feature in the primary research papers, with investigations pertinent to therapeutics, in that each describes some aspect of a potential new medication. One of the editors' declared aims is to bridge basic and clinical immunology, and so far contributions have come from scientists working with cell culture systems as well as from those using animal models leading to new human therapies. All the papers have the tenor of having been thoroughly reviewed and though styles vary there is a consistency and seriousness that is useful for abstracting information or even just a casual leaf through.

The editors, true to their intention, have been careful to maintain a balance that can appeal to both clinicians and scientists and if they can attract the best work of this subject matter, this will develop to be a journal with impact. I am convinced that there is scope for Therapeutic Immunology and I will certainly be recommending it to our library at St Mary's.

Richard Lake is lecturer in immunology, St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London.

Therapeutic Immunology

Editor - Ellen Vitetta and Herman Waldmann
ISBN - ISSN 0967 0149
Publisher - Blackwell Scientific Publications
Price - £60.00 (indiv.), £130.00 (insti.)
Pages - Bimonthly

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