Diversity in Immunology is essential for our survival and for true scientific advancement

Scientists know well how crucial it is to maintain diversity in our immune system. Diversity in the cell types and molecules of our immune system keep our bodies thriving and protected from pathogens. Immunology training and inquiry deliver a deep understanding of how the immune system shuffles and mutates genes to generate new diversity, which is required to recognize a constantly evolving universe of pathogens that we may encounter. In an interesting parallel, diversity of thought by scientists from all walks of life and from all corners of the world, is what accelerates scientific discovery and benefits society. 

Ensuring diversity among those working in laboratories, departments, institutions and professional societies must drive hiring and staffing decisions for the profession to grow and thrive. Eugene Oltz, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, credits Ohio State’s deliberate action and hiring practices with driving diversification within the scientific community. 

“Diversity is an essential part of our academic mission,” Oltz says. “A diversity of cultures and life experiences only strengthens our mission to provide evidence-based health care that stems from scientific research.” 

Oltz, along with Adriana Forero, PhD, assistant professor of Microbial Infection and Immunity at the Ohio State College of Medicine and Mireia Guerau-de-Arellano, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience in the School of Health and Rehabilitation, have work featured in the January 15, 2022 edition of The Journal of Immunology; a topical issue entitled, “Celebrating Diversity in Immunology”. Oltz serves as editor-in-chief of the journal and, for this issue, he worked with co-editors De’Broski Herbert at the University of Pennsylvania and Irene Salinas at the University of New Mexico, to provide an editorial titled “The Importance of Diversity in Immunology.” The editorial sets the tone for the issue that highlights a wide range of immunologists who have been recognized as current or future thought leaders based on their considerable scientific accomplishments. It includes authors from diverse backgrounds, including varying ethnicities, religions, ages, and genders and includes biographical statements where authors address how their identity influenced their science. 

Forero contributed a Brief Review on her area of expertise — identifying viral and host factors that promote maladaptive interferon (IFN) responses and contribute to the development of immunopathology. In “Beyond Good and Evil: Molecular Mechanisms of Type I and III IFN Functions,” Forero and co-author Jack Dowling, an Ohio State undergraduate student studying biochemistry, review a duality in the protective and pathogenic roles of type I and III IFNs.  

“We detail the consequences that result when IFN synthesis and IFN receptor signaling lack appropriate regulation,” Forero says. “This is highly relevant amid COVID-19 because IFN responses have been linked to much of the pathophysiology observed in severe COVID-19 patients.” 

In the collaborative manuscript “The Minority Scientists’ Experience: Challenging and Overcoming Barriers to Enhancing Diversity and Career Advancement,” Guerau-de-Arellano’s and co-authors detail how fellow colleagues from minority groups face barriers in accessing professional advancement and representation in immunology research efforts.  

“One of the efforts that really matters to me has been to make the research environment more inclusive to diverse populations, particularly by raising awareness about microaggressions and promoting allyship,” Guerau-de-Arellano says. “By making our environment more diverse, equitable and inclusive, we enhance and accelerate creative thought and discovery, which benefits society as a whole.” 

The authors and contributors hope that this special edition will serve to inspire healthcare professionals, researchers and institutions to work together to foster initiatives that can be implemented to increase equity and inclusion in biomedical research as a whole. Diversity must be accomplished individually and collectively to end inequalities in all scientific fields.