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Fellows Directory

Frank Austen

Frank Austen

Professor Frank Austen ForMemRS

Foreign Member

Elected: 2004


K. Frank Austen is an American immunologist who has dedicated his career to revealing the molecular and cellular basis of acute allergic responses. His discoveries have shaped our understanding of asthma, and paved the way for medicines that have benefitted millions of people with the respiratory condition.

Early in his career Frank heard of an enigmatic agent that caused severe contraction of the airways in the lung and could not be ameliorated by antihistamine. Frank knew that asthma attacks were also unresponsive to antihistamine, sparking his curiosity that the agent might be involved in the condition.

Working with colleagues, Frank characterised what came to be known as cysteinyl leukotrienes — inflammatory mediators produced by cells of the immune system. They even tested synthetic versions on themselves to prove that they caused the symptoms seen in asthma. Frank elucidated their biosynthesis and functions, which led to the development of leukotriene inhibitors — the first medicine to target the biological cause of asthma attacks.

Professional positions

, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Microbiology, immunology and developmental biology
    • Cellular and humoral immunology
  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology
    • Molecular immunology
  • Organismal biology, evolution and ecology
    • Evolution


cysteinyl leukotrienes and their receptors, mast cell derived mediators, innate vs induced mast cells, amplication loop of the complement system

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