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Women in immunology

As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations in 2016, the BSI celebrated the contributions made to our discipline by outstanding immunologists throughout our 60 year history.  Here we feature some of the key women who led the way in ensuring that immunology is the broad reaching, innovative and exciting discipline that we know today. You can find more information on each of these women below, plus some highlights of their research that was published in BSI journals.  

Brigitte ‘Ita’ Askonas FMedSci FRS   

1923 – 2013

  • Referred to by many as the ‘Mother Figure’ or the ‘Grand Dame of Immunology’
  • Made major contributions to our understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of lymphocyte responses to proteins, helping to establish many of the basic mechanisms behind the immune response to infection
  • Immense legacy giving her time generously to many in immunology, and having trained many students who are now eminent scientists throughout the world


 Every so often in your life you meet someone who changes everything you do from that moment on. To so many, Ita Askonas was just such an individual.”*


Selected publications from BSI journals 

Askonas, B. A., McMichael, A. J. & Roux, M. E. Clonal dominance and the preservation of clonal memory cells mediated by antigen-antibody. Immunology 31, 541–51 (1976). Read full article here.
Kemshead, J. T. & Askonas, B. A. Thymus dependence of the IgG response: role of T cells is restricted to non-specific rather than antigen-specific factors. Immunology 37, 603–8 (1979). Read full article here. 
Cannon, M. J., Stott, E. J., Taylor, G. & Askonas, B. A. Clearance of persistent respiratory syncytial virus infections in immunodeficient mice following transfer of primed T cells,  Immunology 62, 133–8 (1987). Read full article here. 
Mayor-Withey, K. S., Clayton, C. E., Roelants, G. E. & Askonas, B. A. Trypanosomiasis leads to extensive proliferation of B, T and null cells in spleen and bone marrow. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 34, 359–63 (1978). Read full article here. 
McMichael, A. J., Gotch, F., Cullen, P., Askonas, B. & Webster, R. G. The human cytotoxic T cell response to influenza A vaccination. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 43, 276–84 (1981). Read full article here. 

*Leszak Borysiewicz 2014 Ita Askonas: sixty years of immunology.  Photo credit: Anne-Katrin Purkiss, Wellcome Images   

Deborah Doniach MD FRCP  

1912 – 2004

  • An outstanding clinical immunologist and pioneer in the field of autoimmune disease
  • Determined new concepts that provided the stimulus for our understanding of autoimmune disease, through her work on thyroid disorders 
  • A true scholar, her infectious enthusiasm for the discipline inspired a generation of clinical immunologists


 “She was a woman of charisma and creativity who inspired patients, academic collaborators, and a generation of biomedical scientists lucky enough to do research in her laboratory.”*


Selected publications from BSI journals

Roitt, I. M., Torrigiani, G. & Doniach, D. Immunochemical studies on the thyroglobulin autoantibody system in human thyroiditis. Immunology 15, 681–96 (1968). Read full article here. 
Rizzetto, M., Swana, G. & Doniach, D. Microsomal antibodies in active chronic hepatitis and other disorders. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 15, 331–44 (1973). Read full article here.
Sotsiou, F., Bottazzo, G. F. & Doniach, D. Immunofluorescence studies on autoantibodies to steroid-producing cells, and to germline cells in endocrine disease and infertility. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 39, 97–111 (1980). Read full article here.
Khoury, E. L., Hammond, L., Bottazzo, G. F. & Doniach, D. Surface-reactive antibodies to human adrenal cells in Addison’s disease. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 45, 48–55 (1981). Read full article here.

   *Pearce Wright 2004 The Lancet 363, 995. Photo credit: Tabitha Doniach

Dame Bridget Ogilvie AC, DBE, FMedSci, FRS

  • An immunologist and parasitologist by training, who has dedicated her career to building and supporting the research careers of others through pioneering roles in public engagement and science leadership
  • Former Director of the Wellcome Trust, who oversaw the conversion of the organisation to the world-leading research funder it is today and led the establishment of the Sanger Institute, a world-leading centre for genetics and genomics research
  • Campaigner for promoting public understanding of and engagement with science through her work with Sense About Science


“There are many ways of being a scientist and I’ve had such a wonderful, broad, interesting experience through the many things I’ve got involved with … I’ve taken rather big risks, but boy has it paid off.”*


Selected publications from BSI journals        

Dineen, J. K., Ogilvie, B. M. & Kelly, J. D. Expulsion of Nippostrongylus brasiliensis from the intestine of rats. Collaboration between humoral and cellular components of the immune response. Immunology 24, 467–75 (1973). Read full article here.
Corsini, A. C., Clayton, C., Askonas, B. A. & Ogilvie, B. M. Suppressor cells and loss of B-cell potential in mice infected with Trypanosoma brucei. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 29, 122–31 (1977). Read full article here.
Askonas, B. A., Corsini, A. C., Clayton, C. E. & Ogilvie, B. M. Functional depletion of T- and B-memory cells and other lymphoid cell subpopulations-during trypanosomiasis. Immunology 36, 313–21 (1979). Read full article here.
Selkirk, M. E., Wilkins, S. R., Ogilvie, B. M. & Platts-Mills, T. A. In vitro induction of human helper T cell activity by Trypanosoma brucei. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 52, 512–8 (1983). Read full article here.

 *Bridget Ogilvie, quoted in NDM video.  Photo credit: Will Strange, British Society for Immunology 

Delphine Parrott FRSE   

1928 - 2016

  • Scientist who pioneered research into T-cell immunology, which has led to many clinical advances including organ transplantation
  • Made seminal contributions in identifying the role of the thymus in health and disease and how the movement of blood cells are involved in inflammation reactions
  • First female General Secretary of the British Society for Immunology from 1972–73 and the first female professor in the 400-year history of University of Glasgow


 “Delphine was a very thoughtful scientist; as well as teaching us the scientific method, she gave us a sense of fun and appreciation of the excitement of discovery.”*


Selected publications from BSI journals   

Parrott, D. M. The effect of site of implantation on host reaction. Immunology 3, 244–53 (1960). Read full article here.
Humphrey, J. H., Parrott, D. M. & East, J. Studied on globulin and antibody production in mice thymectomized at birth. Immunology 7, 419–39 (1964). Read full article here.
Parrott, D. M. & Ferguson, A. Selective migration of lymphocytes within the mouse small intestine. Immunology 26, 571–88 (1974). Read full article here.
East, J., De Sousa, M. A., Parrott, D. M. & Jaquet, H. Consequences of neonatal thymectomy in New Zealand black mice. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 2, 203–15 (1967). Read full article here. 
Parrott, D. M. & De Sousa, M. Thymus-dependent and thymus-independent populations: origin, migratory patterns and lifespan. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 8, 663–84 (1971). Read full article here.    
Parrott, D. M., Tilney, N. L. & Sless, F. The different migratory characteristics of lymphocyte populations from a whole spleen transplant. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 19, 459–74 (1975). Read full article here.
Davies, M. D. & Parrott, D. M. The early appearance of specific cytotoxic T cells in murine gut mucosa. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 42, 273–9 (1980). Read full article here.


*Marlene Rose & Tom MacDonald The Guardian 10 March 2016. Photo credit: British Society for Immunology