Medical Science

Noel Rose’s contribution in the demonstration of autoimmunity

Mahfuzul Hasan

A very basic aspect of immunology includes the ability of the body’s immune cells to differentiate between self and non-self. Based on this phenomenon, our body is capable of identifying foreign bodies that invade our system and elect immune responses against them. Although this is true and evident in the majority of the cases, certain different cases are also evident. Thus comes the existence of autoimmunity. Autoimmunity can simply be demonstrated as a condition when the immune system loses its ability to discriminate between self and non-self. In other words, due to actions of own immune cells or antibodies, certain functional or structural damage can be induced against normal components of the body. Currently, more than 40 human diseases are thought to be of autoimmune origin (George,2018). A disease can be considered as of autoimmune origin only if it meets the following three criteria:

  1. Immune response must be specific for self tissues or antigens.
  2. The immune reaction should not be secondary to tissue damage and must contain primary pathogenic significance.
  3. Any other properly evident cause of the infection must be absent.

Before proper demonstration of autoimmunity, scientists strongly rejected the idea that any organism’s immune system could attack its own tissues. Paul Ehrlich termed such a possibility as  “horror autotoxicus” and strongly denied such possibility (T., 2017). 

This idea was later proven wrong during 1956 due to the experiment of Noel Rose under the supervision of Ernst Witebsky at University of Buffalo School of Medicine (Rienzi, 2014). They were working with organ specific antigens which are immunologically active molecules that are unique for certain cells and tissues. Firstly, rabbit’s thyroid specific thyroglobulin protein was naturally prepared and isolated and injected in another rabbit which showed that the second rabbit developed antibodies against the injected thyroglobulin proteins. After that, thyroglobulin separated from a rabbit was reinserted in the thyroid of the same rabbit and immune response was still induced. Thus, the presence of autoimmune condition was first experimentally proven. However, many other researcher’s still denied the findings and Noel Rose continued his work for the next ten years to provide more concrete evidence. 

Due to his tremendous findings, Noel Rose is now respectfully considered as the father of autoimmunity as his findings opened the door for a completely new aspect of scientific research. He died of a stroke last year on 30th July at the age of 92. 

Noel R. Rose (December 3, 1927 – July 30, 2020)

Mahfuzul Hasan

Microbiology Program

BRAC University. 


  • J. H. T.. HORROR AUTOTOXICUS AND OTHER CONCEPTS OF PAUL EHRLICH. JAMA. 1961;176(1):50–51. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.03040140052017

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