In a May 14 ceremony at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Yale immunobiologist Ruslan M. Medzhitov, Ph.D., was awarded the inaugural Lurie Prize in the Biomedical Sciences from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).

The newly instituted award, which honors early-career researchers whose findings have advanced basic biomedical science, was given to Medzhitov, the David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, for his groundbreaking studies of the innate immune system, the body’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses (see related story).

A jury of scientists headed by Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, selected Medzhitov from a group of 154 nominees for the award, which carries an honorarium of $100,000.

Medzhitov, elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, came to Yale in 1994 from Moscow, Russia, having been inspired by the then-controversial theories of innate immunity championed by the late Yale immunobiologist Charles A. Janeway Jr., M.D.

At that time the innate immune system was receiving little scientific attention, but by 1997 Medzhitov, Janeway, and colleagues had established that innate immune system components known as toll-like receptors (TLRs) act as a pathogen-detecting sentinel and activate adaptive immunity. Since then, TLRs have become the subject of intense research activity in laboratories around the world.

“Dr. Medzhitov’s painstaking studies paved the way for the identification of multiple tlr family members and their respective ligands, which help bind molecules forming larger complexes, advancing the entire field of immunology and opening the way for the development of new vaccines and treatments,” Snyder said in an announcement of Medzhitov’s selection. “He is a true pioneer of medical science.”

The prize was established by Chicago philanthropist Ann Lurie “to reward and acknowledge a scientist who makes a discovery that is clearly a game changer in terms of medical and biological research.”

In accepting the prize, Medzhitov said, “This award is a tremendous honor, and I am very grateful to all my colleagues, teachers, and trainees. I am especially grateful to the FNIH and its scientific jury for recognizing the tremendous progress in the field of innate immunity to which so many of my colleagues have contributed.”