Professor Adam Cunningham

Adam Cunningham

Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
Professor of Functional Immunity

Contact details

Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Adam Cunningham is a researcher based in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences’ Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy. In addition he is part of the vaccinology and immunomodulation theme in the newly formed cross-College Institute of Microbiology and Infection.

Adam's research primarily focuses on the how immune responses develop to vaccines and infection and how they impact on host immune homeostasis.

Adam’s significant contributions to recent COVID-19-relevant research have:

  1. Led to the development of a new ELISA test to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2;
  2. Shown the test can confirm SARS-CoV-2 infection in children diagnosed with a newly identified multi-system inflammatory syndrome (PIMS-TS), similar to Kawasaki disease, who have tested negative for the virus by the PCR test;
  3. Shown the level of previous infection can vary in different health care workers in a hospital setting;
  4. Identified how antibodies can be obtained from blood spots on paper – providing a cheap and scalable way to enhance antibody testing in high and low income settings.


  • PhD – The detection, epidemiology and immunobiology of Chlamydia pneumoniae, 1995
  • BSc (Hons) – 2.1 in Pathobiology, 1991


Cunningham graduated from The University of Reading in 1991 with a 2.1 in Pathobiology. He was awarded his PhD in Southampton in 1995 on “The detection, epidemiology and immunobiology of Chlamydia pneumoniae”, supervised by Professor Mike Ward.

His first post-doctoral position, as part of the (then) Glaxo Wellcome Action TB initiative, examined how Mycobacterium tuberculosis adapted to changes in oxygen tension, a common feature of granulomas and associated with conversion of tubercle bacilli to a persisting state. In 1999 he undertook a post-doctoral position with Prof. Ian MacLennan examining how antibody responses develop and are regulated. During this time Cunningham incorporated the use of Salmonella and its component antigens into this work. This led to his first independent position in Birmingham in January 2005 as a tenure-track RCUK Roberts Academic Fellow studying how immune responses develop to pathogens and vaccines.

He was made Senior Research Fellow in October 2009, Senior Lecturer in June 2010, Reader in October 2010 and Professor of Functional Immunity in August 2011.


Cunningham teaches on the MBChB, BMedSc and postgraduate courses and also teaches qualified medics in various aspects of immunology and research. He has also successfully supervised PhD students in immunology and infection and is interested in hearing from individuals who wish to pursue a PhD.

Postgraduate supervision

Adam supervises doctoral research students in the areas of adaptive immunity, vaccine function, immunomodulation and immunity to infection.

If you are interesting in studying any of these subject areas please contact Professor Adam Cunningham directly, or for any general doctoral research enquiries, please email

For a full list of available Doctoral Research opportunities, please visit our Doctoral Research programme listings.



B cells, T cells, generation and maintenance of adaptive responses, infection, vaccination, immune homeostasis, immune modulation

Lay summary

Their work aims to understand how infection changes who we are as individuals. Their work has a particular focus on how infection can educate the immune system and the specific elements and cells of the immune system that respond to pathogens. An exciting consequence of this work is that by comparing how they react to the whole pathogen or to individual components of the pathogen thry can generate new vaccines to infections and new treatments to infectious and non-infectious diseases.


Their research uses in vivo models of infection to study how infection and vaccination modifies immune homeostasis, with a particular emphasis on adaptive immunity. Relating these changes to bacterial clearance helps identify how infections are controlled and how vaccines function. Furthermore, understanding the relationship between host and pathogen helps identify novel approaches to exploit bacteria and their components as prophylactics and therapeutics in infectious and non-infectious diseases (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Studying host responses to pathogens and their components can help in the design of novel vaccines and treatments to infectious and non-infectious disease

Examples of current themes ongoing in the laboratory include:

  1. The development of vaccines against non-typhoidal Salmonella and the potential of B1b cells as targets for vaccination
  2. How T and B cell responses are regulated after infection and vaccination
  3. How lymphopoiesis is regulated in the thymus and bone marrow during infection
  4. How bacteria and their components immunomodulate the host during infectious and non-infectious disease
  5. How multiple and co-infections impact upon host homeostasis and immune function
  6. How dormant tuberculosis infections in humans are maintained

Such investigations require studies of immune homeostasis in multiple anatomical locations concurrently, the different cellular subsets involved and the kinetics of these events (Fig. 2)

Figure 2

Though this work is performed primarily in the context of infection and vaccination, with a particular focus on adaptive immunity and its direction by the innate immune system, the principles allow us to investigate how non-infectious disease impacts on the host.

Their work has shown that the immune system responds differently to the same antigen when presented in different immunological contexts and in different anatomical compartments. This is important since it means they can modify the response to an antigen or promote a particular host function simply by altering how they deliver antigen to the immune system. This capacity to modulate the host response to a pathogen or a component of a pathogen or a vaccine underlies our translational work (see publications). Lastly, using this knowledge they can exploit their findings to maintain and improve health as we age through directing and stimulating beneficial, long-term immune responses. Collectively, their work therefore helps understand how they can improve immunity to infectious and non-infectious disease.

Other activities

  • Reviewer for a number of high-impact, internationally-competitive, journals and funding agencies in the UK and abroad
  • Panel member of the Royal Society Joint International Projects committee
  • Organized a number of national and international meetings on microbiology, infection and immunology


Recent publications


Rooke, JL, Icke, C, Wells, TJ, Rossiter, AE, Browning, DF, Morris, FC, Leo, JC, Schütz, MS, Autenrieth, IB, Cunningham, AF, Linke, D & Henderson, IR 2021, 'BamA and BamD are essential for the secretion of trimeric autotransporter adhesins', Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 12, 628879.

Faustini, S, Jossi, S, Perez-Toledo, M, Shields, A, Allen, JD, Watanabe, Y, Newby, ML, Cook, A, Willcox, C, Salim, M, Goodall, M, Heaney, J, Marcial-Juarez, E, Morley, G, Torlinska, B, Wraith, D, Veenith, T, Harding, S, Jolles, S, Mark, PJ, Plant, T, Huissoon, A, O’Shea, MK, Willcox, B, Drayson, M, Crispin, M, Cunningham, A & Richter, A 2021, 'Development of a high-sensitivity ELISA detecting IgG, IgA and IgM antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein in serum and saliva', Immunology.

Richter, AG, Shields, AM, Karim, A, Birch, D, Faustini, SE, Steadman, L, Ward, K, Plant, T, Reynolds, G, Veenith, T, Cunningham, AF, Drayson, MT & Wraith, DC 2021, 'Establishing the prevalence of common tissue-specific autoantibodies following severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection', Clinical and Experimental Immunology, vol. 205, no. 2, pp. 99-105.

Chetty, A, Darby, MG, Vornewald, PM, Martín-Alonso, M, Filz, A, Ritter, M, McSorley, HJ, Masson, L, Smith, K, Brombacher, F, O'Shea, MK, Cunningham, AF, Ryffel, B, Oudhoff, MJ, Dewals, BG, Layland, LE & Horsnell, WGC 2021, 'Il4ra-independent vaginal eosinophil accumulation following helminth infection exacerbates epithelial ulcerative pathology of HSV-2 infection', Cell Host & Microbe, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 579-593.e5.

Wall, N, Godlee, A, Geh, D, Jones, C, Faustini, S, Harvey, R, Penn, R, Chanouzas, D, Nightingale, P, O'Shea, M, Richter, A, Moss, P, Cunningham, A & Harper, L 2021, 'Latent cytomegalovirus infection and previous capsular polysaccharide vaccination predict poor vaccine responses in older adults, independent of chronic kidney disease', Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 2021, no. 00, ciab078, pp. 1-13.

Papakonstantinou, D, Dunn, SJ, Draper, SJ, Cunningham, AF, O’Shea, MK, McNally, A & Achkar, JM (ed.) 2021, 'Mapping gene-by-gene single-nucleotide variation in 8,535 Mycobacterium tuberculosis genomes: a resource to support potential vaccine and drug development', mSphere, vol. 6, no. 2, e01224-20.

Shields, AM, Faustini, SE, Perez-Toledo, M, Jossi, S, Allen, JD, Al-Taei, S, Backhouse, C, Dunbar, LA, Ebanks, D, Emmanuel, B, Faniyi, AA, Garvey, M, Grinbergs, A, McGinnell, G, O'Neill, J, Watanabe, Y, Crispin, M, Wraith, DC, Cunningham, AF, Drayson, MT & Richter, AG 2021, 'Serological responses to SARS-CoV-2 following non-hospitalised infection: clinical and ethnodemographic features associated with the magnitude of the antibody response', BMJ Open Respiratory Research, vol. 8, no. 1, e000872.

Cook, AM, Faustini, SE, Williams, LJ, Cunningham, AF, Drayson, MT, Shields, AM, Kay, D, Plant, T, Huissoon, A, Wallis, G, Beck, S, Jossi, SE, Perez-Toledo, M, Newby, ML, Allen, JD, Crispin, M, Harding, S & Richter, AG 2021, 'Validation of a combined ELISA to detect IgG, IgA and IgM antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in mild or moderate non-hospitalised patients', Journal of Immunological Methods, vol. 494, 113046.

Faustini, SE, Jossi, SE, Perez-Toledo, M, Shields, A, Allen, JD, Watanabe, Y, Newby, ML, Cook, A, Willcox, CR, Salim, M, Goodall, M, Heaney, JL, Marcial-Juarez, E, Morley, GL, Torlinska, B, Wraith, DC, Veenith, T, Harding, S, Jolles, S, Mark, PJ, Plant, T, Huissoon, A, O'Shea, MK, Willcox, BE, Drayson, MT, Crispin, M, Cunningham, AF & Richter, AG 2020, 'Detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein in both serum and saliva enhances detection of infection', medRxiv.

Perez-Toledo, M, Beristain Covarrubias, N, Channell, W, Hitchcock, J, Jones, C, Coughlan, R, Bobat, S, Jones, N, Nakamura, K, Ross, E, Rossiter, A, Rooke, J, Garcia-Gimenez, A, Jossi, S, Persaud, R, Marcial-Juarez, E, Flores-Langarica, A, Henderson, I, Withers, D, Watson, S & Cunningham, A 2020, 'Mice deficient in T-bet form inducible NO synthase–positive granulomas that fail to constrain salmonella', Journal of Immunology, vol. 205, no. 3, pp. 708-719.

Domínguez-Medina, CC, Pérez-Toledo, M, Schager, AE, Marshall, JL, Cook, CN, Bobat, S, Hwang, H, Chun, BJ, Logan, E, Bryant, JA, Channell, WM, Morris, FC, Jossi, SE, Alshayea, A, Rossiter, AE, Barrow, PA, Horsnell, WG, MacLennan, CA, Henderson, IR, Lakey, JH, Gumbart, JC, López-Macías, C, Bavro, VN & Cunningham, AF 2020, 'Outer membrane protein size and LPS O-antigen define protective antibody targeting to the Salmonella surface', Nature Communications, vol. 11, 851.

Shields, A, Faustini, SE, Perez-Toledo, M, Jossi, S, Aldera, E, Allen, JD, Al-Taei, S, Backhouse, C, Bosworth, A, Dunbar, LA, Ebanks, D, Emmanuel, B, Garvey, M, Gray, J, Kidd, IM, McGinnell, G, McLoughlin, DE, Morley, G, O'Neill, J, Papakonstantinou, D, Pickles, O, Poxon, C, Richter, M, Walker, EM, Wanigasooriya, K, Watanabe, Y, Whalley, C, Zielinska, AE, Crispin, M, Wraith, DC, Beggs, AD, Cunningham, AF, Drayson, MT & Richter, AG 2020, 'SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence and asymptomatic viral carriage in healthcare workers: a cross-sectional study', Thorax, vol. 75, no. 12, pp. 1089-1094.

Perez-Toledo, M, Faustini, SE, Jossi, SE, Shields, AM, Kanthimathinathan, HK, Allen, JD, Watanabe, Y, Goodall, M, Wraith, DC, Veenith, TV, Drayson, MT, Jyothish, D, Al-Abadi, E, Chikermane, A, Welch, SB, Masilamani, K, Hackett, S, Crispin, M, Scholefield, BR, Cunningham, AF & Richter, AG 2020, 'Serology confirms SARS-CoV-2 infection in PCR-negative children presenting with Paediatric Inflammatory Multi-System Syndrome', medRxiv.

Bryant, JA, Morris, FC, Knowles, TJ, Maderbocus, R, Heinz, E, Boelter, G, Alodaini, D, Colyer, A, Wotherspoon, PJ, Staunton, KA, Jeeves, M, Browning, DF, Sevastsyanovich, YR, Wells, TJ, Rossiter, AE, Bavro, VN, Sridhar, P, Ward, DG, Chong, Z-S, Goodall, ECA, Icke, C, Teo, A, Chng, S-S, Roper, DI, Lithgow, T, Cunningham, AF, Banzhaf, M, Overduin, M & Henderson, IR 2020, 'Structure of dual-BON domain protein DolP identifies phospholipid binding as a new mechanism for protein localization', eLife, vol. 9.


Banham, G, Godlee, A, Faustini, S, Cunningham, A, Richter, A, Harper, L, Backhouse, C, Casey, A, Dunbar, L, Emmanuel, B, Fahy, M, Moss, P, Nightingale, P, Ratcliffe, L & Stringer, S 2021, 'Hemodialysis patients make long-lived antibodies against SARSCOV-2 that may be associated with reduced reinfection', Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, vol. 32, no. 9, pp. 2140-2142.

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