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Dr. Richard K. Gershon Lectures

In the early 1970s, Dr. Richard K. Gershon ignited the new field of immunology with his discovery of suppressor T cells, now recognized to be important in cancer, autoimmunity, allergies and infectious diseases. Gershon, who earned his medical degree at the Yale School of Medicine, worked in the Department of Pathology where he became professor and founded the Howard Hughes Cellular Immunology Unit at Yale. Immunology research at Yale was housed for many years within the Department of Microbiology, and subsequently in the Department of Pathology where it was organized as the Division of Immunology headed by the late Dr. Richard K. Gershon. Dr. Gershon, whose research focused on regulation of the immune response, developed a sizable division within the Department of Pathology between 1977 and 1983. A key component in this growth was the establishment of a formal program of training in immunology at the pre- and post-doctoral levels. A second important stimulus was the strong support received by several members of the Section from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Eventually, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute constructed new and unified facilities for the Division of Immunology within the Medical School. At the time of Dr. Gershon's untimely death, a committee was appointed that recommended the establishment of an autonomous Department of Immunobiology.

In addition to his contributions to the Department of Immunobiology at Yale, Richard Gershon also made one of the most important discoveries in Immunology in this century. In 1970 together with his student Kondo he established that thymus-derived lymphocytes are capable of exerting a specific negative regulatory effect in immune responses and called these cells suppressor T cells. He further demonstrated that suppressor T cells are often responsible for the phenomenon of acquired immunological tolerance. The full impact of the discovery of the specific suppressive regulatory role of T lymphocytes in the immunological system, and in other systems under T cell control in health and disease, has not yet been fully realized; we continue to derive enormous benefits long after Gershon's death from his valuable contribution. From then on Richard Gershon's contributions continued at the highest level. He discovered feedback suppression of immune responses, showed the role of suppressor T cells in both humoral and cellular immunity, dissected the complex suppressor T cell circuits involving both inductor and effector suppressor T cells, and elucidated the role played by VH and MHC genes in their regulation. He showed that the suppressor T cell system itself was under the negative regulation of contrasuppressor T cells, which freed the helper T cells of the negative regulation of suppressor T cells under certain conditions. Richard Gershon's discoveries were the product of a highly perceptive mind endowed with uncanny intuition into complex biological systems where he took a childish delight to guide us, as if by the hand. His creative gifts as a scientist were associated with a warm and exceedingly generous personality who could enjoy life to the fullest, with gusto and even bravado, and as a consequence made it that much more enjoyable for all of us.

Twenty years after his passing Yale held the "Richard K. Gershon Symposium on Suppressor T Cells," a day of presentations and discussions by eminent researchers in immunology. Each year there is an annual funded lecture honoring the late Dr. Richard K. Gershon, but in 2003, the Gershon family and the Department of Immunobiology decided to honor the 20th year of the researcher's passing with this larger event.

In his honor, the Department still holds an annual Richard Gershon Memorial Seminar.