At Cosmos we’re more about science than poetry, but sometimes the opportunity arises to combine the two.
In this instance it was the news that Emeritus Professor Jacques Miller AC, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne, Australia, was the joint winner of the 2019 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
He shared the prestigious international prize with Professor Max Cooper of Emory University, US, for their work identifying immune cells called T and B cells, which have critical roles in our immune system.
Miller also discovered the fundamental role of the thymus in the mammalian immune system, and Professor Ian Wicks, a colleague at WEHI, was moved to pen the following in his honour.
Miller shares Wicks’ artistic interests. He is a keen and talented painter.
It was the last known organ
with no known function –
the thymus, long considered vestigial,
just a fleshy mass in the thorax
that withers with age,
like something we outgrow.
From this distance, we would agree
it was a problem worth solving.
And, some might say
it was not so surprising
that a Franco-Australian medico,
who had seen TB up close
in his family, taking flight from war,
suspected he was just not suited
for a life of orthodoxy
in Medicine’s old school.
Or, that one day young Jacques Miller
might see a travelling scholarship
advertised in the MJA.
And with that he departed
from his sandstone alma mater,
taking little more than curiosity,
and a bursary from the Antipodes,
to find himself
at an outpost of the Chester Beatty,
in stables for the horses, converted
into a makeshift laboratory
in the English countryside, near Pollard’s Wood.
He says he had no intention
of solving a major problem,
but was intrigued by Gross’ virus,
and so, with surgical flair, he set to work,
excising and transplanting the thymi
from newborn mice, and engrafting a tapestry
of matched and mis-matched skin.
It was an experimental masterpiece.
And while 60’s London swung,
Miller showed the ancient thymic lobes
are in fact essential – the birthplace of T cells,
thymus-derived and responsible
for no less than the defence of self, seeding every infant
with a unique immunological repertoire
within days, and for life.
Originally published by Cosmos as Poetic praise for an award well won
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