Workshop History

A Brief History of the International Histocompatibility Workshops

The field of human immunogenetics, a branch of genetics research focused on genes involved in the immune response, has been the subject of intense study for the last 35 years. This is especially true for that part of immunogenetics dealing with the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a series of closely linked and highly polymorphic genes found in humans on chromosome number 6. The MHC genes and the cell surface protein molecules encoded by the MHC play a critical role in T cell recognition and function as antigens during transplantation.

Since the description of the first human leukocyte antigen group termed MAC in 1958, there has been rapid growth in the interest and knowledge about the genetic structure and biologic function of the MHC which in man is known as the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) system. The dramatic advance in knowledge has been due largely to the early appreciation of the scope of work necessary to elucidate the HLA system requiring broad collaboration beyond what is possible within individual laboratories. This led to the organization of an international group of investigators willing to share reagents and unpublished data. The first HLA antigens were defined by individual groups using their own reagents, antisera and cell panels, identified locally. An exchange of reagents was necessary to compare antisera to standardize the definition of antigens and to establish a common nomenclature. The most pragmatic and effective way to promote this collaboration was through the organization of workshops designed to bring investigators together and to create the opportunity to exchange reagents for mutual study.

The first HLA workshop involved scientists from several countries and proved to be a seminal event, an impetus for more extensive collaborations in the following years. In addition to providing a mechanism for exchanging reagents, the International HLA Workshops have also been on the forefront of promoting new technology and disseminating both reagents and technical skills worldwide. This has been an invaluable resource for stimulating immunogenetics research and facilitating rapid translation of new technology and knowledge to patient care.