Professor Jonathan Sprent
Media Release: 22 January 2015
The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) has selected Professor Jonathan Sprent FAA FRS, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, to be the 2015 recipient of the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Award recognises "a career of exemplary contributions to the field, leadership in the community, and dedicated membership and service to the AAI". It will be presented in May at AAI's annual conference, to be held in New Orleans.
A Fellow of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Sprent is one of the most eminent immunologists of his generation, having made many seminal contributions to the fields of immunological memory and tolerance, transplantation immunity and cancer immunotherapy. He has led the Cellular Immunity lab at Garvan since 2006, where he works on various aspects of T cell biology.
Sprent was born in England and grew up in Brisbane. He graduated in medicine from The University of Queensland, and then went on to do a PhD in the lab of preeminent immunologist Professor Jacques Miller at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. With Miller, Sprent explored the properties of the newly discovered population of thymus-derived lymphocytes, or T cells. He devised ingenious ways (in mice) of showing how T cells were activated and how they achieved tolerance to 'self'. His 1971 work as a PhD student, originally published in Cellular Immunology, was recently selected as a 'Pillars Article' in the Journal of Immunology.
The British Society for Immunology (of which Sprent is an Honorary Member) notes that "the advances made by Jon and others at this early period of Immunology are now almost unimaginable".
"More than ten years before the T-cell receptor had been discovered, and more than fifteen years before MHC molecules had been characterised, these studies elucidated many of the rules which underpin our current understanding of how T cells work. It is testimony to the vision of workers like Jon that the phenomena they defined, and the rules of T-cell recognition they established, have survived almost unchallenged."
Reflecting on his own methods of working, Sprent noted, "I am a great believer in curiosity-driven basic research. The Eureka moments we cherish as scientists often arise largely by chance and are vital for pointing us in new directions, in my case using knowledge of the immune system to devise methods for treating cancer and autoimmune disease."
After post-doctoral training in Switzerland and England, Sprent worked for 30 years in the United States, first at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and then The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.
During his years in the States, Sprent had a long association with the AAI, joining the Council in 1993 and becoming President in 1998.
Sprent has also served on the Editorial Boards of many journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine (since 1979) and Science (since 2009).
Sprent returned to Australia in 2005, as a holder of a Burnet Award (only three were ever given) and continued to explore his interest in the development, function and fate of T cells. He is currently working on three promising immunotherapies for cancer and autoimmune disease.