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Working on H2 with Hugh McDevitt


Difficulty of explaining the H2 system
Jan Klein Scientist
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I remember that the people were... not that they were not that they were not interested, because in the mean time H2 became something more than just some set of blood group antigens because of the second phase of the histocompatibility. And during that time it was discovered that similar systems were in other species including humans. The HLA that I already mentioned was obviously a homologue of the H2. In the 1950s the surgeons basically solved the technical problems that prevented organ transplantation before. They were all ready to practically transplant any organ that... as you wished. The problem was that the organs were rejected. Just like the tumors and any other tissue, they were attacked by the immune system of the host and they were rejected. So... and the main... as Snell showed... the main agent responsible for the rejection was the H2. The H2 stimulated the strongest response in the mouse and HLA in humans. The strongest response that led to the rejection of the organ transplant.

So in... both immunologists and other people outside of... the surgeons and other people were interested in what is this HLA? What... the H2 and how could we find a way to avoid the rejection of the grafts? So they were interested, but the... both the HLA system with these tremendous charts and the complexity of the whole serology and the H2 system with the H2 chart were Spanish villages, let's say, to any outsiders. And so I remember people would invite me because they wanted to hear... to learn what is this H2. And I would go and give a seminar and you know I'm very sensitive to how the audience reacts. I give good talks when the audience is responsive, and when it's not then I just wish I would be somewhere else that I would want to be.

Incidentally I remember once giving a talk in Japan, which after I left... since it was the place where I crossed the line... became well, kind of, nostalgic place or I had some special feeling for Tokyo and for Japan. So I went back many times. Once I was asked to give a talk... an immunologically oriented talk to a group of dental surgeons or dentists, Dental Association or something like that. It was a huge hall filled with people. I gave a talk in English. It turned out I don't think that anybody understood English there. I anticipated that, but... so I made one [unclear]... one of my post docs make the slides in Japanese. So they could have followed what I was talking about.  But I will never forget that. It was like talking to a hall full of dead bodies. They were not sleeping you know. They were too polite for that. They... it looked like they were very attentively following what I was saying, but absolutely you could see they had absolutely no idea.

Well anyway it wasn't that bad with the... I will tell you maybe sometimes later just the opposite case when I think I had the lecture where I had the best attention. But with the immunologists or geneticists... were also interested in the system because it allowed to be complex and then, of course, wonderful model for studying a gene complex. So they were interested. They would invite me. I would talk to them. It was not a good experience. The questions, if nothing else, revealed the level of what... of how the message got through. And I think I was trying pretty well to simplify the system and present it in a simplistic manner. It still was not getting through to them.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: organ transplants, H2, HLA, major histocompatibility complex, George Davis Snell

Duration: 5 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008