ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award – Abul K. Abbas, MBBS

Dr. Abul K. Abbas is the 2021 recipient of the ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award. This award was officially presented during the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Investigative Pathology at Experimental Biology 2021 – Virtual and Interactive. Dr. Vinay Kumar made the presentation on behalf of Dr. Abbas’ nominators.

Dr. Abbas earned an MBBS from the All-India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi, India, and subsequently completed residency training in pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA) and a research fellowship in the Department of Pathology at Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA). Upon completion of training, Dr. Abbas served as a Visiting Scientist in the Division of Immunology at the National Institute for Medical Research (London, UK) prior to becoming an Assistant Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School in 1977. Dr. Abbas was subsequently promoted through the academic ranks and became Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School in 1991. In 1999, Dr. Abbas relocated to the Department of Pathology at the University of California at San Francisco to serve as Distinguished Professor in Pathology and Chair. In 2018, Dr. Abbas relinquished his position as department chair to became Chairman Emeritus. However, he continues to work, mentoring trainees, teaching, and writing.

Dr. Abbas’ research program focused on the biology and pathobiology of T-cell responses, including the functions and regulation of helper T-cells. Dr. Abbas’ laboratory employed T-cell cloning and TCR-transgenic mice to study signals that drive CD4+ T-cell differentiation and the functions of these differentiated cells. This work evolved to include studies of the roles of co-stimulatory molecules, CTLA-4, FAS-mediated apoptosis, and interleukin-2 in the regulation of T-cell responses. In addition, Dr. Abbas studied T-cell suppression by CD4+ regulatory T-cells (Treg). This work included seminal studies establishing the role of IL-2 in Treg function in vivo and the discovery that self-antigen imprints tissue resident Treg memory. Dr. Andy Lichtman (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School) described Dr. Abbas’ research achievements in this way:

Scientific contributions to the field of immunology have been based on a continuous body of elegant experimental “[Dr. Abbas’]…scientific contributions to the field of immunology have been based on a continuous body of elegant experimental work, always focused on important biological questions of relevance to the regulation of the immune system, and the dysregulation that leads to autoimmune diseases…

Dr. Andy Lichtman

Dr. Abbas’ research laboratory was well funded over the years, including support by an NIH MERIT Award from 1994-2004. Dr. Abbas’ research program was exceptionally productive as well. He published >205 original research papers, books chapters, and reviews since 1974. Some of his early research was published in The American Journal of Pathology.

Dr. Abbas has received numerous awards over his long career, including several from the ASIP. In 1987, he received the Warner-Lambert/Parke Davis Award (now the ASIP Outstanding Investigator Award), in 2008 he received the ASIP Rous-Whipple Award, and in 2010 he received the ASIP Robbins Distinguished Educator Award. Dr. Abbas received other awards for teaching in mentoring, including the Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award from UCSF in 2013. In 2019, Dr. Abbas was made a Distinguished Fellow of the American Association of Immunologists. Dr. Abbas is a member of the National Academy of Medicine (since 2002) and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 2009). Over the years, Dr. Abbas served a number of scientific journals as an editor or editorial board member, including service as Editor of Immunity from 1993-1996, and Editor of Annual Review of Pathology: Mechanisms of Disease from 2004-2018. Dr. Abbas was an Associate Editor for The American Journal of Pathology from 1992-1996, and he continues to serve as a Scientific Advisor for Science Immunology (since 2016). Over his career, Dr. Abbas served on many NIH Study Sections and research advisory boards. He has also served as a leader in the scientific community. Dr. Abbas served as President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology in 2003-2004, and was a member of the ASIP Council for a period of years. He also served as President of the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies from 2011-2013.

Beyond his excellent research, Dr. Abbas’ contributions to pathology education are exceptional. Dr. Vinay Kumar (University of Chicago) describes Dr. Abbas’ scholarship in this way:

“[Dr. Abbas’]…excellence in education is no less than his research expertise…[he] is a great communicator and has the remarkable ability to teach complex concepts in a simple but not simplistic form.”

Dr. Vinay Kumar

Dr. Abbas is the author of two major textbooks in immunology: Cellular and Molecular Immunology (Elsevier) and Basic Immunology (Elsevier). These textbooks arose from the need for student textbooks as opposed to reference textbooks, and they are written in a language and style that makes the subject accessible to trainees who lack extensive background on these subjects. Cellular and Molecular Immunology was first published in 1991 and its 10th Edition in expected this year. Basic Immunology was first published in 2001 and is now in its 6th Edition. Dr. Abbas is also involved in major pathology textbooks. He is co-editor of both Robbins and Cotran – Pathologic Basis of Disease (which is now in its 10th Edition) and Robbins Basic Pathology (which is now in its 10th Edition). Dr. Abbas joined the editorial team (led by Dr. Vinay Kumar) in 2000 after the death of Dr. Ramzi Cotran. These books are the most widely used pathology textbooks in the world, and are utilized in the teaching of medical students, graduate students, medical residents, and postdoctoral fellows. 

The ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Award is the society’s oldest and most prestigious award. It was first given in 1919 and has been awarded on 70 occasions (including the 2021 award) since that time. This award recognizes significant long-term contributions to the field of pathology, including meritorious research, outstanding teaching, general excellence in the discipline, and demonstrated leadership in the field of pathology. It is abundantly clear from the >40 year record of his research accomplishments and achievements as an educator and leader that Dr. Abul K. Abbas is a most deserving and worthy recipient of this award.