Edwin L. Cooper: A Renowned Biologist And Immunologist

Edwin Cooper (UCLA Health)
Edwin Cooper (UCLA Health)


Comparative immunology is attributed to Edwin L. Cooper, an internationally renowned biologist and immunologist. Cooper was born to Ruthester Porche Cooper and Edwin Ellis Cooper on December 23, 1936 in Oakland, Texas. He had a strong fascination in animals and insects when he was a small child. He examined the behavior of insects in his area during the summer and collected crawfish and earthworms to study. His early matriculation in the educational system was facilitated by his intense curiosity. He started second grade at age six and graduated from Houston’s Yates High School at age sixteen. He pursued his interest in developmental biology while a student at Texas Southern University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in biology in 1957.

Cooper graduated with a master’s in biology from Atlanta University in 1959. He performed an ear transplant from one chick embryo to an older embryo of a different chick to investigate the chick embryos. He correctly predicted that the ear would continue to develop after it was attached. Cooper completed his doctoral studies at Brown University in 1963. His studies centered on the transplantation of fish scales utilizing immunosuppressive medications.

The discipline of immunology and facets of developmental biology were intertwined in this work. Despite the fact that his research was unsuccessful, he came to the conclusion that fish need the same immunosuppressive medication that people did for a kidney graft. His findings was initially not well welcomed by the scientific world, but by considerable study and testing on other animals, he was able to later support his assertion that practically any animal might serve as a model for the human immune system. Using zoology and immunology to investigate the human immune system, he was able to establish the subject of comparative immunology, now known as immunobiology.

Cooper accepted a position as an assistant professor of anatomy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine in 1964. From 1989 to 1993, he served as the department’s vice chair. Cooper conducted studies on worms and frogs while he was a professor at UCLA by doing skin grafts between two worms to demonstrate that worms will accept the graft and later reject it, exactly like people do. His research was published in the journal Transplantation in 1969. He later traveled to lecture in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East as a renowned immunobiology expert. In 1966, he went to Mexico as part of an exchange program to teach immunology.

Cooper wrote the first textbook on the subject and is credited with founding the science of comparative immunology. He founded the Comparative Immunology Division in 1975, and in 1977 he was named an editor of the International Journal of Developmental and Comparative Immunology. In 2004, he also served as the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s founding editor.

Cooper received numerous awards and distinctions for his innovative work and contributions to science throughout the course of his more than five-decade career. In addition to the distinguished Alexander von Humboldt Prize in Germany and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Cancer Research, he has been given five honorary degrees.

Cooper and his wife Helene Cooper currently reside in Los Angeles after Cooper resigned as a professor emeritus from UCLA. Together, they are parents to two kids.

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