Jon J. Van Rood is Emeritus Professor in Internal Medicine with a special teaching task in Immunohematology at Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and was head of the Department of Immuno-Hematology and Blood Transfusion until 1991, when he was retired. Since then he has remained active, first as chair person in the different foundations he started, such as the Eurotransplant and Europdonor Foundation, recently renamed as Matchis, and since 2010 as Senior Medical Consultant in Matchis. His research focused on the introduction of a methodology to unravel the highly complex immune genetics of the HLA system, its role in organ and stem cell transplantation and auto immune and infectious disease. He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science (KNAW) and a foreign member of the National Academy of Science (NAS) in Washington (U.S.A.) and Chair of the Macropa Foundation, which provides financial support for break through research. He received eight honorary degrees and numerous prices such as the Wolf Price, the Latour-Baillot Price and the Heineken Price.
HLA: The traffic tower of the immune response.
The anatomy of the HLA is of an almost unbelievable complexity. Its function is to present peptides of breakdown products of autologous cells and tissues and viral, bacterial and other invaders to the humoral and cellular immune cells of the individual. This complexity enables the HLA system to mount an effective immune response to almost all invaders and explains why the HLA polymorphism differs in parts of the world where different infectious diseases prevail. The HLA polymorphism adapts itself to mount an effective immune response to these different viral and bacterial invaders and can prevent that an epidemic kills all infected persons. This complexity can create a problem when offspring from a couple with different racial background need an organ or stem cell transplant, because between ten and twenty percent of them might have an HLA phenotype which occurs only once in a million donors. To counter this problem global medicine is the answer and that is why Bone Marrow Donors World Wide was started, which will soon provide access to over 30 million stem cell donors living on all continents.
The discovery of fetal-maternal microchimerism and its mechanisms of immune recognition and regulation, which can remain lifelong activated, opens a new dimension in our understanding of the function of the HLA system and of Immunology in general.
It has already shown to be of importance in organ and stem cell transplantation and for our understanding of autoimmune disease and opens new possibilities to prevent malignancies.