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Program Description

Just the Facts

Immunology. A program that focuses on scientific study of the biological mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of disease, host-pathogen interactions, and host response to disease. Includes instruction in antigen and antibody structure and function, effector mechanisms, receptors, histocompatibility, host-pathogen recognition, disease modeling, autoimmune systems, antibody formation, cytotoxic responses, regulation of immune response, virulence determinants, intercellular signaling, immunosuppression, immunotherapy, immunogenetics, disease markers, transplantation, antibody humanization, and microbial pathogenesis.

This program is available in these options:

  • Bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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Additional Information

Students in virology and immunology programs work at finding medication and vaccines for fatal diseases like AIDS as well as less serious ones like the common cold.

Dr. Robert Garry is a professor of virology at Tulane University Medical Center. He says immunology and virology are related but slightly different fields.

Virology focuses on viruses, which invade living cells in order to reproduce. Immunology, on the other hand, is the study of the immune system's response to viruses and other invaders, or to abnormal or damaged cells.

Most programs are offered at the master's level. But some colleges and universities do allow undergraduate students to specialize in immunology or virology, rather than general biology.

If the program is offered at a graduate level, you'll need an undergraduate degree in biology or microbiology. In most cases, an interview, a medical examination and letter of recommendation are also required for acceptance.

You can take this as either a science or a medical degree. Most programs are found in schools of medicine, departments of microbiology or departments of molecular microbiology and immunology.

Dr. Linda Gooding is a virology professor at Emory University. She says a good immunology or virology program will include classes in biochemistry, micro and cellular biology, immunology, virology and infectious disease.

"Students are required to do extensive research and to write a PhD or master's thesis based on this research," she says.

In the first year of graduate work, students spend a lot of time in class. Toward the end of the program, they work 50- to 60-hour weeks in a lab doing research and writing their thesis.

Immunology and virology are not for everyone. This field involves long hours in the lab.

"In addition to being a good student, one must have worked in a lab on an undergraduate level," says Gooding. "The reason we do that is because this is a demanding profession and we want to know going into it that the students know what they are getting themselves into."

In high school, take all the math and science you can. "Basic biology and chemistry are the most important areas to focus on," says Garry.

"Science clubs and fairs at the high school and college levels are likely to involve a lot of students interested in virology and immunology," he adds. "Volunteering at hospitals, AIDS hospices, cancer centers or treatment facilities are other opportunities."


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Biological Scientists

GradSchools.com Biology (Immunology, Microbiology, Virology)
Listing of graduate biomedical science programs worldwide

American Institute of Biological Sciences
Resource for research, education and policy-making news and information


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