Alain Townsend is honored for seminal contributions to the understanding of T-cell activation and its regulation. He observed that T cells can recognize portions of a pathogen that are not expressed on its surface. This gave rise to experiments demonstrating that viral pathogens are degraded inside antigen presenting cells, and ultimately pieces of the virus derived from its core associate with Class I products of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC). Subsequently Dr. Townsend established the essential role of these components in the assembly and surface expression of MHC Class I molecules themselves, leading to the discovery of peptide transporters in the endoplasmic reticulum. These fundamental contributions established the integral role that pathogens play in regulating immune system function, and a new paradigm of MHC gene expression and function relevant to the rational understanding of infectious and autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Townsend is a medical graduate of St. Mary's Hospital, London (1977) where he first developed his interest in human diseases associated with alleles of the MHC complex. He then began graduate study in immunology at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London. In 1984 he joined the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Oxford, and in 1992 became Ad Hominem Professor of Molecular Immunology. Recently he has undertaken further clinical training at the John Radcliffe Hospital where he is an Honorary Consultant in General Internal Medicine. Among other honors he is a Fellow of the Royal Society and an International Research Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His honors include the William B. Coley Award, the Cheadle Medal and Prize for Clinical Medicine and the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine.