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Honoring a leader in innate immunity

Medicine@Yale, 2013 - August


German foundation names School of Medicine scientist the first recipient of €4 million prize for pioneering research in immunobiology

On June 5 in Berlin, Germany, School of Medicine researcher Ruslan M. Medzhitov, Ph.D., received the inaugural Else Kröner Fresenius Award, an international prize for distinguished immunology research created in 2012 by the Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation (EKFF), one of Germany’s largest philanthropic organizations.

The award recognizes Medzhitov’s pioneering contributions to our understanding of the innate immune system, which mounts an immediate defense against infection and provides the slower-acting adaptive immune system with the necessary information to create custom-made cells that target specific bacterial or viral invaders.

Medzhitov, the David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, has done seminal studies elucidating the critical role of innate immune system molecules known as toll-like receptors (TLRs) in sensing microbial infections, as well as how TLR signaling activates inflammation and adaptive immunity.

The award, which includes a cash prize of €4 million—€3.5 million for Medzhitov’s research, and a €500,000 personal award—was presented by Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, Ph.D., in a cer­emony at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. In accepting the prize, Medzhitov said, “I am very grateful to the Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation and its scientific jury for this amazing award. It is a huge honor and privilege to be recognized this way. This award is particularly meaningful because it provides a generous support for future studies.”

The award commemorates the 25th anniversary of the death of Else Kröner, who led the growth of a small pharmacy and associated business into a global medical company, the Fresenius Group, which employs more than 100,000 people in over 100 countries, and has annual sales of over €10 billion.

Kröner, who supported young scientists and was interested in novel research into the origin and development of disease, established the EKFF in 1983, dedicating it to the support of medical research and humanitarian medical work in developing countries. To date, the foundation has provided funding of approximately €150 million for more than a thousand projects.

“The Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation is very pleased and proud to announce Dr. Ruslan Medzhitov as the award winner. Both his past contributions as well as his very exciting future research ideas make him an ideal candidate,” said Susanne Schultz-Hector, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist and member of the foundation board.

The EKFF’s new award in immunology recognizes the field’s increasingly prominent role in contemporary biomedicine. “Immunology is not only essential for understanding infectious diseases or allergies, it is also involved in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer,” Schultz-Hector said. “It is a particularly fast-moving field of research, promising important breakthroughs in the near future.”

Medzhitov has received numerous honors for his large body of work. Earlier this year, he was awarded the inaugural Lurie Prize in the Biomedical Sciences from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and along with Richard A. Flavell, Ph.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Immunobiology and HHMI investigator, he was co-recipient of the 2013 Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science.

In addition, Medzhitov was one of three scientists awarded the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine for 2011, and he won the 2010 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research. Also in 2010, Medzhitov was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the elite corps of researchers from the nation’s top scientific institutions. In 2007, he received a Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists, given by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, for his contributions in elucidating the role of the innate immune system.

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