For their discovery of the two distinct classes of lymphocytes, B and T cells – a monumental achievement that provided the organizing principle of the adaptive immune system and launched the course of modern immunology

The 2019 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors two scientists for discoveries that have launched the course of modern immunology. Max D. Cooper (Emory University School of Medicine) and Jacques Miller (Emeritus, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) identified two distinct classes of lymphocytes, B and T cells, a monumental achievement that provided the organizing principle of the adaptive immune system. This pioneering work has fueled a tremendous number of advances in basic and medical science, several of which have received previous recognition by Lasker Awards and Nobel Prizes, including those associated with monoclonal antibodies, generation of antibody diversity, MHC restriction for immune defense, antigen processing by dendritic cells, and checkpoint inhibition therapy for cancer.

When Miller began his research—around 1960—scientists had uncovered some features of the adaptive immune system, which protects our bodies from microbial invaders, underlies immunological memory, and distinguishes self from foreign tissue. They knew that antibodies, soluble proteins whose quantities surge after infection, perform jobs that differ from tasks that rely on live, intact cells such as rejection of transplanted grafts.