The Heidelberger-Kabat Lecture’s foundations date to the mid-1950s, when Columbia University instituted a lecture series to honor Dr. Michael Heidelberger, the university's first professor of immunochemistry and the founding father of the field. Subsequently, the university established a symposium named for Dr. Elvin Kabat, a Columbia professor who studied under Dr. Heidelberger and whose research led to the identification of the proteins responsible for antibody activity. The two lectures, merged in 2001, are a premier forum for new developments and discoveries in immunochemistry.
Michael Heidelberger (1888–1991)
Trained in organic chemistry, Dr. Heidelberger embarked on the characterization of the immunologic specificity of pneumococcal polysaccharides in the 1920s and continued this work after his move to Columbia in 1928. His work demonstrated that polysaccharides are effective antigens (in the absence of any peptide component), thus dispelling the myth that only proteins could serve as antigens, and that antibodies are proteins, bringing immunochemistry out of the vague realm of colloidal chemistry. Using antibodies as specific reagents, Dr. Heidelberger carried out structural analyses of a wide variety of naturally occurring polysaccharides. Dr. Heidelberger brought the precise methods of analytical chemistry to the determination of antibodies, antigens, and complement on a weight basis, providing the gold standard against which miniaturized and rapid methods such as RIA and ELISA could be standardized and compared.
Dr. Heidelberger was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science in 1967. He worked full time until the age of 100 and published a paper in every decade of the 20th century.
Elvin A. Kabat (1914–2000)
During his doctoral work, Elvin Kabat developed a lifelong interest in carbohydrate chemistry, which later led to his unraveling the complex chemistry of human blood-group substances. In 1937–38, Dr. Kabat used electrophoresis to show that immunoglobulins make up the "gamma globulin" fraction of human serum and demonstrated that gamma globulin was present in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with multiple sclerosis. In 1947, Dr. Kabat began to work on an animal model of MS in monkeys, establishing the autoimmune character of this disease. He initiated the quantitative study of antibodies in anaphylaxis and allergy and provided the first estimates of the size and shape of an antibody's antigen combining site. Dr. Kabat received the National Medal of Science in 1991.
Past Heidelberger-Kabat Lecturers
2019 – David G. Schatz, PhD, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology; Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; Chair of Immunobiology, Yale University
2018 – Robert D. Schreiber, PhD, Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Distinguished Professor; director of The Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs, Washington University School of Medicine
2017 – Rafi Ahmed, PhD, Georgia Research Alliance Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Director, Emory Vaccine Center Emory University School of Medicine
2015 – Michael Karin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology; Ben and Wanda Hildyard Chair for Mitochondrial and Metabolic Diseases; American Cancer Society research professor; University of California, San Diego School of Medicine
2014 – Diane Mathis, PhD, Morton Grove-Rasmussen Professor of Immunohematology; Division of Immunology, MBIB, Harvard Medical School
2013 – Jeffrey V. Ravetch, MD, PhD, Theresa and Eugene Lang Professor Head, Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology, The Rockefeller University
2012 – Mark M. Davis, PhD, The Burt and Marion Avery Family Professor of Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine ; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
2011– Laurie Glimcher, MD, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology, Harvard School of Public Health; professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School
2010 – Richard A. Flavell, PhD, FRS, Sterling Professor and chair, Yale University School of Medicine
2009 – Sankar Ghosh, PhD, Silverstein and Hutt Family Professor of Microbiology; chair of the Department of Microbiology, Columbia University
2008 – Michel C. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD, Sherman Fairchild Professor, The Rockefeller University; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
2007 – Tasuku Honjo, MD, professor of immunology and genomic medicine, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine
2005 – Max D. Cooper, MD, investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; professor of medicine, pediatrics, microbiology, and pathology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
2004 – Klaus Rajewsky, MD, professor of pathology, Harvard Medical School; senior investigator, CBR Institute for Biomedical Research
2003 – Ralph Steinman, MD, Henry G. Kunkel Professor and senior physician, The Rockefeller University