An Insightful Decision

The emerging centrality of the immune system in human health is something Virginia businessman and philanthropist Beirne Carter (McIntire ’48) only could’ve imagined in his lifetime. In 1989, Carter lost a long battle with a rare type of cancer. Not long after, Carter’s private foundation made an initial gift to create the Beirne B. Carter Center for Immunology Research at UVA—an insightful decision, given the incredible strides that would be made in the field in the years to come.

Twenty-five years after its official launch in 1991, the Carter Immunology Center has received a new shot of support from the Beirne Carter Foundation: A $1.5 million commitment to celebrate the center’s silver anniversary while propelling forward its mission to develop and sustain an immunology research and training program of international stature.

“We’re on the cusp of using immunology with great precision in a variety of areas,” said center director Victor Engelhard. “All the faculty members are immensely grateful for the Beirne Carter Foundation’s extraordinary and sustained generosity and vision. This new gift—which brings the foundation’s cumulative investment to more than $11 million—will help us move aggressively to hire new faculty and cover an even broader swath of the immunological landscape.”

Thomas Braciale, M.D., the CIC’s founding director until 2015, calls the foundation a “linchpin for the vitality and the continued development of immunology research at UVA.”

The center’s focuses include cancer immunology, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and inflammation. In these and other areas, the CIC studies how the immune system works and interacts at the fundamental level. Findings are presented to clinical partners who translate them into new treatments and cures—such as the recently developed experimental vaccine for melanoma. Other breakthroughs include Young Hahn’s innovative research into using the mechanisms of immunology to fight hepatitis C and prevent liver cancer and Tim Bullock’s identification of a molecule that plays a critical role in initiating immune responses to infection.

“My father would be absolutely astounded with the progress in the field,” said Carter’s daughter, Rossie Carter Hutcheson, president of the foundation and an advisory board member since its inception. “Of the hundreds of organizations and projects we support, the CIC is the most important. The center has transformed the lives of thousands of people, and it will continue to have a huge impact on global health.”

The bulk of the foundation’s new pledge supports collaborative research projects—those early in their research life but with potential for significant future funding—and bridge funding for faculty research. Both are critical needs in today’s competitive grant climate. A smaller portion supports travel awards for UVA researchers. The gift also fully funds a CIC seminar series, transforming the Beirne B. Carter Lecture in Immunology into an annual symposium. The inaugural symposium was held in October and brought four distinguished scientists to Grounds.

According to Engelhard, the entire biomedical field, including immunology, is at a critical juncture from a research and training standpoint. Thanks to the Beirne Carter Foundation’s ongoing generosity, UVA will remain on the leading edge of a field that could unlock some of the most important medical discoveries in the years to come, with an impact on millions suffering from illnesses ranging from asthma and allergies, to AIDS, lupus, hepatitis, and cancer.