Immunology Graduate Group

Immunology Home » Program


History & Scope | Training Method | Core Areas of Research | NIH Partnership


Education and research in Immunology has a 60-year history at the University of Pennsylvania. The program began when a group of faculty doing research in Immunology established the Immunology Graduate Group (IGG) in 1971 to develop a formal program of doctoral study.

The faculty persuaded the University to recognize the medical significance of immunological phenomena, and thus support was granted for this new program. The faculty of the IGG are drawn from eight different units of the University of Pennsylvania: the School of of Arts and Sciences; the School of Medicine; the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; the School of Dental Medicine; the School of Veterinary Medicine; The Wistar Institute; and the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.

Graduate education in the School of Medicine was reorganized in 1985, and since then the IGG has been administrated by the Office of Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS). The BGS office provides the IGG and other graduate programs at the medical school with record keeping capabilities, course quality control, University oversight, and some financial resources.

Immunology is essentially a study of complex biological processes. Immunology research issues intersect with all life sciences and with some physical sciences, including chemistry and physics; this breadth of topics provides diverse research opportunities for the immunology trainees. This training is designed, therefore, to provide the basic knowledge and laboratory experience that will facilitate productive investigation in whatever specialized area the student chooses. As such, the IGG encourages applications from a faculty with a broad range of research interests and recruits students from various scientific backgrounds.


The Immunology Graduate Group identifies outstanding PhD candidates, recruits them to the University of Pennsylvania, and trains them to be productive scientists. Our training program provides students with mentorship and helps them develop the skills they need to become independent research scientists. However, because our graduates also pursue careers other than research, our training program is designed also to prepare students for these careers. Pursuant to this overall goal, the IGG seeks to provide each trainee with a comprehensive understanding of the foundation of modern immunology: students learn the applications of and importance of both the conceptual and experimental perspective, and they also learn the contemporary and historical views associated with the study of immunology.

The IGG accomplishes its training goals by:

  1. Providing trainees with a foundation of knowledge through coursework, seminars, a journal club, and interactions with visiting scientists;
  2. Training students to evaluate the current literature and develop questions into testable hypotheses;
  3. Providing trainees with an intensive basic research experience.



The Immunology Graduate Group provides each trainee with an understanding of the conceptual and experimental foundation of modern immunology and imparts comprehensive knowledge of the immune system and its regulation while teaching the skills necessary for a successful career in biomedical science. The program features a substantial breadth and depth of research, spanning all major areas of contemporary immunology. The Penn immunology program is recognized not only for its leading role in numerous major immunological discoveries of the last decade but also for its highly collegial, interactive, collaborative and innovative approach to modern science.

Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology of the Immune System

Several laboratories at Penn are examining fundamental issues in molecular immunology, including signal transduction, transcriptional regulation, antigen receptor recombination and DNA repair in immune cells. Another large set of investigators studies the cell biology of lymphocyte and natural killer cell activation, as well as the developmental biology and homeostasis of immune cells and tissues. These investigators have strong ties with the cell and molecular biology and signal transduction communities at Penn.

Immunity to Infections

Penn investigators are studying the interface of innate and adaptive immunity, at the epithelial barriers where defense against pathogens is maintained or breached and in the inductive sites of clonal expansion, such as secondary lymphoid tissue. Numerous researchers at Penn are exploring the role and regulation of the traditional and newly discovered helper T cell subsets, as well as their novel cytokine products, during infection with viral, bacterial and parasitic pathogens. There are also many laboratories studying the differentiation and regeneration of effector and memory T cells, both helper and cytotoxic, in the defense against all classes of microbes. Integrative techniques ranging from 4-dimensional in vivo imaging of the immune response against pathogens to systems biology approaches for high-throughput analyses of anti-viral immunity are being undertaken.

Cancer Immunology

Cancer immunology research at Penn encompasses the entire spectrum from basic research of tumor cell recognition and tumor-immune system interactions to innovative clinical trials in cancer patients. A number of investigators have pioneered novel vaccine approaches against cancer and have developed state-of-the-art techniques for boosting patient immunity. Investigators working on both Immunity to Infections and Cancer Immunology have close ties with the microbiology, infectious diseases, vaccine, gene therapy and HIV research communities at Penn.

Autoimmunity, Tolerance and Immune-mediated Pathology

Using a wide spectrum of approaches and disease conditions, numerous investigators at Penn are focusing their efforts on the control of immune reactions. Many laboratories are examining fundamental mechanisms involved in breakdown of physiological tolerance and are working to develop strategies to block destructive immune responses. Several investigators at Penn have pioneered the understanding of how excessive immune response during infection is controlled. Laboratories at Penn are also developing novel approaches for inducing tolerance to organ transplants.

Genomics, Bioinformatics, Epigenetics

Several laboratories within the IGG and throughout the Penn community are embracing and exploiting genome wide analysis platforms to investigate mechanisms of gene expression in lymphocyte development and function. These studies include a wide variety of approaches to examine epigenetic regulation across the genomic landscape of pertinent cells, and in-depth bioinformatics analysis platforms to analyze and interpret such data sets. Any and all IGG students have the opportunity to use these approaches and tools to address fundamental and translational research projects in immunology and related fields.



Penn's Immunology Graduate Group and the immunologists at National Institutes of Health have forged a partnership that further enriches our students' educational experience and research opportunities. A distinguished group of investigators from the Bethesda, Maryland campus of the NIH has joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty in immunology, enhancing our program in areas such as structural biology, human genetics, and cell biology, specifically as they relate to Immunology. The partnership brings to the IGG the extraordinary resources and scientific expertise present at the NIH, one of the largest and most renowned biomedical research centers in the world.

Educational opportunities on the NIH campus are offered to all immunology graduate students. The NIH faculty participate fully in all aspects of our teaching programs at Penn's Philadelphia campus, including lectures, journal club, directed readings courses, and service on thesis committees. The partnership also allows a proportion of each entering class to pursue rotation and thesis research in the NIH laboratories. This program is coordinated with the NIH's Graduate Partnerships Program.