Over the past three decades, Immunology has evolved from a field where descriptive information was obtained at the whole organism level or in vitro, to one in which fundamental questions were defined and analyzed at the molecular level, and more recently, into a science where central questions can be evaluated in the whole organism by employing an array of novel molecular, cellular and analytical techniques. We also now appreciate the centrality of the immune system in a variety of disease processes. Transcending the early understanding of the immune response as a means to control infection and as the basis for autoimmune disease, it plays a critical role in both control and promotion of cancer, in the development of cardiovascular disease, and in appropriate neurological functioning in the brain. Understanding the molecular processes of hematopoetic development, which are central to creation of the immune system, also provides a window into the basis for hematopoetic malignancies. Conversely, basic understandings in cell biology and vascular biology have led to important new insights into antigen processing and presentation, apoptosis and necrosis, and cell trafficking. The critical point is that immunological research in the 21st century is intensely multi-disciplinary and ideally collaborative, relying on well-trained immunologists who can appreciate and effectively interact with researchers in other biomedical disciplines.
These considerations drive the organization and function of the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Immunology (ITP) at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine. The ITP provides a platform to identify, train, and support the career paths of the next generation of immunology researchers. We recruit highly competitive candidates and support their research in pursuit of a PhD or MD-PhD degree. We also recruit and support the development of PhD and MD postdoctoral fellows to be the next generation of Immunology research scientists. We provide students and postdoctoral fellows with opportunities to acquire the basic knowledge and the diverse set of skills (bench research, experimental design and interpretation, written and oral communications) that are essential for careers as scientists in academic, pharmaceutical, or biotechnology settings. We have created a rich intellectual environment that emphasizes curiosity, creativity, responsibility, collegiality, and collaboration as keys to individual success.