Harnessing the Immune System

Virginia businessman and philanthropist Beirne Carter (Col ’48) was a man before his time, a visionary who believed that immunology research could advance the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Before succumbing to a rare type of cancer in 1989, Carter gave a $3.5 million gift that led to the creation of the Beirne B. Carter Center for Immunology Research at UVA. In celebration of the center’s 25th anniversary, the Beirne B. Carter Foundation recently made a $1.5 million gift to the center to propel its mission forward.

“We are grateful for Beirne Carter’s vision and for the continued support of his family,” says Vic Engelhard, director of the Carter Immunology Center (CIC). “Without their commitment, the University of Virginia would not have the leading program in immunology that we have today. Their support allows us to produce the strong body of research that provides the foundation for so many lifechanging treatments and therapies.”

CIC Director Vic Engelhard, right, and colleague Craig Slingluff stand in their lab
Jackson Smith
CIC Director Vic Engelhard, right, and colleague Craig Slingluff have focused on the immune system to develop cancer vaccines that are showing promise in clinical trials.

Carter’s daughter, Rossie Carter Hutcheson, serves as president of the Beirne B. Carter Foundation and has continued supporting her father’s vision over the past two decades. The foundation’s total giving to the CIC exceeds $11 million—supporting a state-of-the-art building, fundamental disease research, collaborative science across disciplines, and training for the next generation of scientists.

The CIC includes more than 45 investigators who strive to unlock the immune system’s potential to fight diseases such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, AIDS, allergies, immune deficiencies, and infectious disease. Engelhard and CIC researcher Craig Slingluff, MD, and their colleagues, for example, developed a method to identify molecular cancer markers that appear on tumor cells, enabling them to develop several cancer vaccines that are showing promise for patients in clinical trials. CIC researchers Tom Braciale and Amber Cardani have developed a new approach to treating viral pneumonia using common allergy and asthma drugs. Tim Bullock defined a new molecule that plays a critical role in triggering immune responses to infections and diseases, uncovering a potential target for future treatments. And Jonathan Kipnis’ research team discovered rare and powerful immune cells in the brain that may play a role in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Today, more than ever, I see an exciting exchange between basic discovery and translational and clinical opportunities,” Engelhard says. “As the center grows to encompass more elements of immunology, we look forward to many future accomplishments in terms of applying our scientific understanding to treating people with disease.”