Their task of the Department of Immunology is to unravel the mechanisms of this system so that they can understand why some diseases emerge, in order to come up with new strategies to tackle them and pave the way for the development of new vaccines. This passion for immunology finds its roots in the very early days of the Institut Pasteur, when the rabies vaccine was developed (Pasteur, 1885) and the first descriptions of the immune system were published (Metchnikoff, winner of the 1908 Nobel Prize for his work at the Institut Pasteur).
Several teams in this research's department are investigating the development of the immune system. Some of the department's scientists explore how the immune system develops in embryos, newborns and adults. Others examine the billions of microbes in the human body (known as the microbiota), which play a vital role in the development of immunity, with the aim of understanding how the body lives with or defends against these microbes.
From immune response to new diagnostic or therapeutic
We know that the immune system reacts in two ways: first, when it initially comes into contact with an infectious agent (such as bacteria, viruses or fungi), it can generate a rapid defense reaction and potentially eliminate the agent – this is known as innate immunity. It can also develop a more sophisticated response to the infectious agent, targeting it by producing specific antibodies – this is adaptive immunity. These two components of the immune response are the focus of intense research within the Department of Immunology.
Finally, although the immune response offers protection against disease, it can also cause disease itself, as in the case of chronic infection or autoimmune disorders, when the immune system is deregulated and attacks healthy cells.
With the aim to find new diagnostic or therapeutic strategies for diseases involving the immune system, the scientists in the Department of Immunology work with their colleagues from other disciplines, including virology, parasitology, cell biology, genetics, developmental biology, epidemiology and neuroscience. Combining expertise from all these fields raises promising new hopes in the area of personalized medicine.
Director of the Department of Immunology
In the early 20th century, immunology was viewed as a science of defense [against microbes]. Nowadays it is a science of integration: microbes are a part of us, and although some cause disease, others are necessary to maintain our health.
The department is also committed to training the next generation of scientists in immunology. Its Master's courses are considered the most prestigious in France!