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Pioneer in studies of innate immunity wins Rosenstiel Award

Medicine@Yale, 2010 - Jan Feb


Ruslan Medzhitov, Ph.D., the David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been awarded the 2010 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science.

The Rosenstiel Award, established in 1972 by Brandeis University, has a long record of identifying and honoring pioneering scientists. Many winners of the award have subsequently gone on to win other major prizes in biomedical research, including the Nobel Prize. A $30,000 cash prize and a medal accompanies each award.

The award to Medzhitov is for his “elucidation of the mechanisms of innate immunity.” In 1997, Medzhitov and the late Yale immunobiologist Charles A. Janeway Jr., M.D., published a seminal paper in the journal Nature showing that proteins known as Toll-like receptors (TLRs) performed a crucial role in sensing microbial infections and alerting the adaptive immune response to act against them.

TLRs work as a first line of defense against infection by detecting large molecules common to many pathogens. For example, the outer membranes of many infectious bacteria contain structural elements not found in mammalian cells, and TLRs quickly recognize these patterns. Because of their ability to potently stimulate adaptive immune responses, TLRs are promising drug targets.

Sharing the award this year is Jules Hoffman, Ph.D., of the National Center of Scientific Research in Strasbourg, France. Hoffman discovered the immune function of TLRs, which were previously thought to play only a developmental role, in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Past Yale winners of the Rosenstiel Award include: (2008) Arthur L. Horwich, M.D., Sterling Professor of Genetics and professor of pediatrics, for his work in protein folding; (2002) Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, for her work with small nuclear ribonucleoproteins; (2001) Thomas A. Steitz, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and professor of chemistry and a winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for contributions to determining the structure of the ribosome; (1996) Thomas D. Pollard, M.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, for his contributions to the understanding of molecular motors; and (1989) Sidney Altman, Ph.D., professor of biology, for discovering the catalytic properties of RNA. Altman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry the same year.