Ruslan Medzhitov has received the Else Kröner Fresenius Award. The award winner was identified in very close cooperation with the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). The award commemorates the 25th anniversary of the death of Else Kröner, who established the foundation in 1983, dedicating it to the support of medical research and humanitarian projects. Kröner supported young scientists and was interested in translational research as well as novel research into the origin and development of disease. Medzhitov’s work contributed greatly to understand the interaction between the innate immune system, providing an immediate defense against infections, with the adaptive immune system, which develops highly specific responses to infectious agents. It all began with the discovery of phagocytosis by Ilya Mechnikoff towards the end of the 19th century. Although the critical role of innate immunity in host defence has been appreciated since then, sensing of pathogens by innate immune cells, in molecular terms, remained obscure for another 100 years. Charles Janeway proposed in the 1980s that conserved molecular patterns expressed by pathogens would be sensed by specific pattern recognition receptors on innate immune cells, which would rapidly induce inflammatory responses and subsequently instruct the adaptive immune system to generate protection. When this proposal was made, Ruslan Medzhitov had just enrolled in a PhD program at the National University of Taschkent, in Uzbekistan. For students in the former Soviet Union, it was hard to keep abreast of the latest findings in science. Yet, one day in the library, Ruslan stumbled over the famous paper of Charles Janeway. This event turned out to be a transformative change in his career. He succeeded in receiving a post-doctoral fellowship to study in the U. S., first in bioinformatics, and then as member of the Janeway lab. There, the two together embarked on the experimental proof of Janeways hypothesis. In the 1997, the two researchers made the groundbreaking discovery that a human toll-like receptor (TLR), a component of the innate system, provides the adaptive system with the necessary information to create custom-made B and T cells that target specific bacterial or viral invaders, through recognition of basic molecular patterns shared by microbial pathogens. Since then, toll-like receptors have become the subject of intense research activity in laboratories around the world. When Charles Janeway passed away in 2003, Medzhitov continued on his own, but with equal productivity. He demonstrated that innate immune recognition is essential for stimulation of adaptive immunity and elucidated the importance of recognition of symbiotic bacteria for maintenance of physiological homeostasis. The Else Kröner Fresenius Award equally considers achievements of the past and visions for the future. Medzhitov, in the future intends to identify means to stimulate the most appropriate immune response for a given infection. This will have direct consequences for the rational design of tailor-made vaccines against infectious, inflammatory, and malignant diseases, and it will lead to novel anti-inflammatory medicines. The Else Kröner Fresenius Stiftun has allocated 3.5 million to the future work of Ruslan Medzhitov and his team of young scientists.
They will set out to investigate largely unexplored fields of infectious disease biology such as the role of possibly harmful body reactions associated with pathogen elimination (immunopathology) or the organism’s capacity for disease-free tolerance of microorganisms. “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,” Medzhitov said. “This award is particularly meaningful because it provides a generous support for future studies. Medzhitov will hold a lecture during the 15th International Congress of Immunology. About 5000 researchers and 5 Nobel Prize winners will attend the event, which will take place in Milan August 22 to 27.
The Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation promotes top-class medical research and supports medical humanitarian projects. To date, the foundation has funded 1,100 projects with a total of approximately 150 million euros.