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History of science, Two signal model, Modern immunology, Medicine, Clonal selection theory, Immune system, Molecular biology

The Foundations of Immunology and their Pertinence to Medicine
by Peter Bretscher

In The Foundations of Immunology and their Pertinence to Medicine, Peter Bretscher describes how the few foundational concepts of immunology came about. He traces Jenner’s development of safe vaccination against small pox in the 1700’s, and how it led to the recognition of infectious disease by Koch and Pasteur in the 1880’s, and to the discovery of the Principles of Vaccination. The formulation of the Clonal Selection Theory in the 1950’s still provides a foundation for contemporary analysis of the immune system. Peter describes the main, and sometimes conflicting concepts, proposed in the last 50 years as to how immune responses are regulated. He develops a unique framework, and employs this to justify some tested and some speculative strategies to prevent and treat clinical conditions in five areas of medicine: Infectious Diseases, Cancer, Autoimmunity, Allergies and Transplantation. This book provides a platform for discussing contemporary immunological issues accessible to the non-specialist, medical students and medical practitioners. The platform challenges some of todays most popular paradigms. Foundations is written in a clear and jargon-free style.

“Foundations, despite its small size, is a monumental edifice of immunological thinking which could not have been written by anyone else but Peter Bretscher.” Zoltan Nagy, Immunologist and author of A history of modern immunology: the path toward understanding.

Peter Bretscher is a well-known Immunologist. In 1970 he published the Two Signal Model of Lymphocyte Activation, with Melvin Cohn, which provided an explanation for how self-nonself discrimination is realized. This theory has stood the test of time and is a central component, along with the Clonal Selection Theory, of modern immunological thinking. Peter studied physics as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, and then, hoping to find a field offering opportunities for theoretical insight, undertook graduate studies in protein X-ray crystallography in the now famous Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He became fascinated at this time by immunology, and was fortunate enough to be able to discuss his early ideas with Francis Crick. This was the beginning of an almost 50 year engagement, during which Peter and his students have made substantial theoretical and experimental contributions to the field. Peter is the author of numerous scientific papers and recently published Rediscovering the Immune System as an Integrated Organ, which looks in detail at the state of immunology today and its relationship to medicine. This book is “an invaluable resource….” (Foreword Clarion Review) and a “must read for anyone interested in immunology, a classic book already.” Alexandre Corthay, Head of the Tumor Immunology Group, University of Oslo.


Peter Bretscher

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