Professor Alain Townsend is a cellular and molecular biologist, based at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. He studies the presentation of influenza antigens by class I molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). In recent years his interest has extended to class I molecules that have functions other than antigen presentation. A particular focus is the HFE gene, which is mutated in individuals with Hereditary Haemochromatosis – who continually absorb excess iron from the diet. As progressive iron loading is correlated with survival in patients with HIV/AIDS, Professor Townsend also studies the interaction between iron and HIV-1 with the aim to limit viral growth.
Professor Townsend's group is part of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine.
Professor Townsend tells us about lessons to be drawn from the history of immunology in Oxford, from 1979 onwards, until his current research on active and passive immunity to influenza.
All these developments happened in Oxford because the atmosphere was right, open, researchers were encouraged to explore, and there was an enthusiasm in a great environment. Experiments and discoveries were made possible by the very open attitude of the supervisors at the time, telling their team that they they could do anything they wanted.