Photo courtesy University of Mississippi Communications
Photo by University of Mississippi Communications
The Japan Prize Foundation named Max Cooper, a University of Mississippi graduate and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, as a 2018 recipient of the award for his work on immunology. The annual awards recognize individuals who pioneer advancement in the fields of medicinal science and resources, energy, environment, and social infrastructure.
Cooper, 85, received the award in the "Medical Science and Medicinal Science" category at a ceremony in Tokyo in April 2018 alongside Australian immunologist Jacques Miller, whom Cooper worked with to research adaptive immunity. It involves antibodies responding to and eliminating pathogens that enter the body, and responding better to future encounters with the same pathogen.
"I was particularly pleased to see the principals of immunology Dr. Miller and I researched be recognized when we received the Japan Prize," Cooper says. "Our research changed the way we look at immunology, and we've been working hard to understand it better ever since. There are a lot of questions in this field, some of which we've answered and a lot we still have left to learn the answers to."
Born in Hazlehurst and raised in Bentonia, Cooper attended Anding Central High School in Bentonia, where his father, Otis Noah Cooper, was superintendent and his mother, Lily Carpenter Cooper, was a teacher. During his senior year, his older brother died in a car accident. His brother had named him as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy, and Cooper decided to use what his brother left him to pursue a career in medicine.
"I had wanted to become a physician ever since I was a kid," he says. "I ultimately saw pediatrics as the field where I could have the greatest effect. I wanted to be able to improve the lives of children through studying immunology."
Cooper enrolled at Holmes Community College in Goodman on a football scholarship and transferred to University of Mississippi a year later, where he took pre-medicine courses to prepare for medical school. He underwent his first two years of medical school at UM before transferring to Tulane University, where he received his doctorate in 1957. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Tulane in 1960.
After completing his residency, Cooper traveled to London for further pediatric training at Great Ormond Street Hospital, which was then called the Hospital for Sick Children. He completed the program in 1961 and went on to the University of California in San Francisco, where he completed an allergy and immunology fellowship in 1962. Later that year, Cooper returned to Tulane and joined its faculty as a pediatrics instructor.
In 1963, Cooper became an assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. In 1967, he became a professor of pediatrics, microbiology, pathology and internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. After 40 years there, he joined Emory University's department of pathology and laboratory medicine in 2007.
Cooper established a scholarship endowment at the University of Mississippi in 2008, which he named the Otis Noah and Lily Carpenter Cooper Education Fund in honor of his parents. In 2010, the Berlin-based Koch Foundation, which is named for the German microbiologist who discovered the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, awarded Cooper with the Robert Koch Prize. In 2017, he received the Emory 1% Award, which goes to Emory University faculty members whose National Institutes of Health proposals rank in the top 1 percent after NIH review.
He is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a former president of the American Association of Immunologists, the Clinical Immunology Society and the Kunkel Society.
Cooper lives in Atlanta with his wife, Rosalie Cooper. The couple has been married since 1960. They have four children—daughter Melinda Holladay, and sons Owen, Michael and Christopher Cooper—and nine grandchildren.