Breakthroughs in Immunology Require a ‘Field of Dreams’ Research Center

A massive immunology research center housing scientists could house different specialists working together on a common project.



Interdisciplinary cooperation is critical to improve the field of immunology and lead to groundbreaking discoveries of vaccines and other disease treatments, Michelson Medical Research Foundation founder Dr. Gary K. Michelson said in an episode of the Science podcast.

“The problem is that most science in academia today is funded by NIH, and they fund essentially one out of every five research proposals, setting every scientist in competition with every other scientist,” he said. “We need to de-silo these brilliant people from all these different areas and have them live and work together on a common project. We need to do something that’s never been done—we need to build a ‘Field of Dreams’ research center on the same scale that industry would, with about 500-600 scientists.”

Dr. Sean Sanders, director and senior editor for Custom Publishing at Science and host of the podcast, added that “groundbreaking discoveries today are seldom the work of single researchers, but rather require teams of workers often across many disciplines.”

This week, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget announcement included an investment of $500 million towards the establishment of the California Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy at UCLA to accomplish these very goals, which Dr. Michelson called “nothing short of historic.” He added that the institute will “undoubtedly save lives, reduce human suffering, save money, educate the next generation of scientists, and seed what will be the next technological economic powerhouse for California.”

“We need to de-silo these brilliant scientists from all these different disciplines and have them live and work together on a common project. We need to do something that’s never been done—we need to build a ‘Field of Dreams’ research center with about 500-600 scientists.”

—Dr. Gary K. Michelson

Dr. Sanders asked Dr. Michelson about the most critical challenges facing immunology. Dr. Michelson said one immediate challenge is the need to develop an ex vivo human test system, which refers to “experimentation done in or on tissues obtained from an organism and maintained under optimum conditions mimicking natural conditions,” according to Science Direct.

“What the challenge—and the opportunity—is right now is to invent the tools and the methods by which we decode the mysterious workings of the immune system,” he said, explaining that immunology is the key to understanding and preventing almost all diseases.

Dr. Michelson is a board-certified orthopedic spinal surgeon, a serial inventor with nearly 1,000 medical patents, and the founder of Michelson Philanthropies and its network of foundations. Michelson Philanthropies recently partnered with AAAS/Science to support a $30,000 prize for early-career scientists known as the Michelson Philanthropies & Science Prize for Immunology.