Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, Sterling Professor of Immunobiology and of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology at Yale School of Medicine, has been selected to receive the 2023 Else Kröner Fresenius Prize for Medical Research, one of the most prestigious honors of its kind. The prize honors Iwasaki’s “groundbreaking contributions in the areas of ‘diseases of worldwide significance,” and will support her current and future investigations of long COVID and other chronic and debilitating post-acute infection syndromes (PAIS) such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). These poorly understood conditions have produced symptoms that include fatigue, shortness of breath, muscular aches and pains, brain fog, and chest pain.
The jury that awarded the prize says it “honors Professor Akiko Iwasaki’s outstanding work on the immune response to viral infections,” adding, “it can furthermore be expected that Akiko Iwasaki’s research on long COVID and other post-acute infection syndromes will bring forth additional discoveries and advances in the coming years which ultimately might help with the diagnosis or treatment of these types of diseases.”
Iwasaki, who has spent her career investigating various forms of viral infection, as well as vaccines to prevent their spread and severity, swiftly shifted the focus of her research to COVID-19 when the pandemic began in 2020, and has become one of the world’s leading experts on the disease in all of its forms. With 65 million people worldwide now suffering from long COVID according to the World Health Organization, she is devoting substantial effort to studying the many forms that long COVID takes, as well as potential therapies. She also wants to learn more about conditions such as ME/CFS, which may be closely related.
“Physicians and the public in general just haven’t known what to do with these diseases,” says Iwasaki. “We still don't know how to better diagnose, treat, and prevent PAIS diseases, but at least there is now more awareness for diseases that have been traditionally and historically ignored. What we would really like to do is to get to the bottom of the root causes of these diseases.” She hopes the Else Kröner Fresenium Prize, worth 2.5 million euros (approximately 2.75 million U.S. dollars), will go a long way toward helping her achieve that goal and to find effective treatments.
Iwasaki will accept the prize on June 5 in Frankfurt, Germany.