The Evolution of APHIA

The science of human histocompatibility testing had its birth in 1958 when the great French scientist Jean Dausset published data on the first human leukocyte specificity MAC-1, the discovery of which earned him the Nobel Prize. This discovery resulted in a large number of laboratories setting up white cell antibody detection assays. It soon became evident that the leukocyte antigen system under investigation was the human equivalent of the mouse H-2 system and therefore would be of prime importance in transplantation immunology. The need for standardization of techniques and nomenclature led to the first international workshop held in Durham North Carolina and organized by Bernard Amos in 1964. One of the scientists from our region at that first workshop was Bill Boyle from Melbourne who is often overlooked when we discuss the early days of HLA as he gained an international reputation as a basic immunologist with an interest in transplantation but working primarily in mice.

The first HLA or Tissue Typing laboratory in our region was established by Peter Morris at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1967 followed shortly by the laboratory in Sydney under the direction of Helen Bashir and Gordon Archer. Other laboratories including the one in Adelaide directed by Judith Hay and Perth by Roger Dawkins were established in addition to laboratories in New Zealand.

By the early 1970s there was quite a deal of inter-laboratory communication and exchange of typing regents, and the time seemed right for a formal grouping of these laboratories. Roger Dawkins who was one of the early pioneers and innovators in the field of histocompatibility organised the first informal meeting of interested laboratory representatives in Perth in November 1976. The invited guests were Erik Thorsby and Peter Morris and the theme of the wet workshop was B cell separation for class 2 typing. That meeting ushered in a new era of collaboration amongst HLA laboratories in this region. As a natural consequence of that meeting the concept of the Australasian Tissue Typing Association (ATTA) was born. An interim committee and chairman (Roger Dawkins) was established which was responsible for setting the guidelines for the establishment of ATTA which formally came into existence in 1977 with an elected President and Council.

About this time, towards the end of the 1970s, the concept of the Asia and Oceania Workshops (AOH) evolved in Japan with the first one being held in Hakone in 1979. This resulted in scientific exchange between laboratories in Australasia, and other regions in Asia and South East Asia. Representatives from laboratories in India, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong became regular attendees at the ATTA meetings. This more inclusive trend was strengthened by the hosting of the 2nd AOH in Melbourne organized by Malcolm Simons, Brian Tait and Tony D’Apice to which many scientists from the South East Asian region attended.

In 1983 a decision was made by the ATTA council to change the name of the association to the Australasian and South East Asian Tissue Typing Association (ASEATTA) to more accurately reflect the nature of the membership. In 1989 the first ASEATTA meeting held outside Australasia was hosted by Brian Hawkins in Hong Kong. This meeting was held at quite an emotional time for many delegates coming just four months after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In subsequent years meetings were held in other Asian cities such as Bangkok and New Delhi.

During the 1990s and the 2000s the scope of the Tissue Typing laboratories expanded with testing for immunogenes in disease becoming increasingly part of our testing repertoire. The concept of Tissue Typing as reflecting accurately the role of the laboratories was becoming an outmoded concept with many other associations such as ASHI and BSHI embracing the concept of Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics as more accurately reflecting our clinical role. In ASEATTA we also felt the need to expand our geographical field even further to strengthen our role in this region, by attracting member laboratories outside of our defined Australasian and South East Asian region to the broader Asian and Pacific regions, and also to remove the Australasian centricity inherent in the name. This was the vision of several people within ASEATTA led by Malcolm Simons who worked extremely hard to attract scientists from China and other Asian countries to our meetings, and Campbell Witt who worked tirelessly on the auto insurance companies organizational matters relevant to the change. As a result of their efforts the name of the organization was changed in 2009 to Asia and Pacific Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics Association (APHIA). The first meeting under the new banner was held in Queenstown, New Zealand in November 2010 under the direction of Paul Dunn.

Along with the new name comes responsibility. We are all responsible for ensuring that all H and I laboratories in our relevant countries have the opportunity to participate in our discussions, meetings and our QAP exercises. Our first task therefore is to identify the laboratories involved in H and I work who are not currently participants in our activities.

So we are now entering a new and challenging phase in the evolution of our association. What started out as a small collection of Australian and New Zealand scientists in Perth in 1976 has grown into a truly international society highlighted by the presentation of first class science at our meetings and by a very professionally organized QAP programme. We are now in a unique position to build on these strengths to make APHIA an even stronger and more vibrant society representing the scientific interests of all who practice in our exciting field.

Brian D Tait