The announcement for the coveted Nobel Prizes have begun.
As expected, the American scientist rule the roost!
This year, one half of the Nobel
for Medicine has gone to Bruce
"for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate
immunity." They discovered
proteins that could identify micro organisms and activate innate
immunity. This is the first step towards an immune response.
The other half of the prize has gone t to Ralph M.
"for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in
adaptive immunity." Steinman discovered
the dendritic cells of the immune system and studied their role in adaptive
immunity which is actually a later- stage
From Fundamental Research to Medical Use
The discoveries that are awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize have
provided novel insights into the activation and regulation of our immune
system. They have made possible the development of new methods for preventing
and treating disease, for instance with improved vaccines against infections
and in attempts to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors. These
discoveries also help us understand why the immune system can attack our own
tissues, thus providing clues for novel treatment of inflammatory diseases.
Bruce A. Beutler
was born in 1957 in Chicago, USA.
He received his MD from the University of Chicago in 1981 and worked as a
scientist at Rockefeller University in New York and the University of Texas in
Dallas, where he discovered the LPS receptor. Since 2000 he has been professor
of genetics and immunology at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA.
Jules A. Hoffmann
was born in Echternach, Luxembourg
in 1941. He studied at the University of Strasbourg in France, where he
obtained his PhD in 1969. After postdoctoral training at the University of
Marburg, Germany, he returned to Strasbourg, where he headed a research
laboratory from 1974 to 2009. He has also served as director of the Institute
for Molecular Cell Biology in Strasbourg and during 2007-2008 as President of
the French National Academy of Sciences.
Ralph M. Steinman
was born in 1943 in Montreal,
Canada, where he studied biology and chemistry at McGill University. After
studying medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, USA, he received his
MD in 1968. He has been affiliated with Rockefeller University in New York
since 1970, has been professor of immunology at this institution since 1988,
and is also director of its Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases.
Scientists have long been searching for the gatekeepers of
the immune response by which man and other animals defend themselves against
attack by bacteria and other microorganisms. Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann
discovered receptor proteins that can recognize such microorganisms and
activate innate immunity, the first step in the body's immune response. Ralph
Steinman discovered the dendritic cells of the immune system and their unique
capacity to activate and regulate adaptive immunity, the later stage of the
immune response during which microorganisms are cleared from the body.
The discoveries of the three Nobel Laureates have revealed
how the innate and adaptive phases of the immune response are activated and
thereby provided novel insights into disease mechanisms. Their work has opened
up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections,
cancer, and inflammatory diseases.
Two Lines of Defense In The Immune System
We live in a dangerous world. Pathogenic microorganisms
(bacteria, virus, fungi, and parasites) threaten us continuously but we are
equipped with powerful defense mechanisms (please see image below). The first
line of defense, innate immunity, can destroy invading microorganisms and
trigger inflammation that contributes to blocking their assault. If
microorganisms break through this defense line, adaptive immunity is called
into action. With its T and B cells, it produces antibodies and killer cells
that destroy infected cells. After successfully combating the infectious
assault, our adaptive immune system maintains an immunologic memory that allows
a more rapid and powerful mobilization of defense forces next time the same
microorganism attacks. These two defense lines of the immune system provide
good protection against infections but they also pose a risk. If the activation
threshold is too low, or if endogenous molecules can activate the system,
inflammatory disease may follow.
The components of the immune system have been identified
step by step during the 20th
century. Thanks to a series of
discoveries awarded the Nobel Prize, we know, for instance, how antibodies are
constructed and how T cells recognize foreign substances. However, until the
work of Beutler, Hoffmann and Steinman, the mechanisms triggering the
activation of innate immunity and mediating the communication between innate
and adaptive immunity remained enigmatic.
Discovering the Sensors of Innate Immunity
made his pioneering discovery in
1996, when he and his co-workers investigated how fruit flies combat
infections. They had access to flies with mutations in several different genes
including Toll, a gene previously found to be involved in embryonal development
by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Nobel Prize 1995). When Hoffmann
infected his fruit flies with bacteria or fungi, he discovered that Toll
mutants died because they could not mount an effective defense. He was also
able to conclude that the product of the Toll gene was involved in sensing
pathogenic microorganisms and Toll activation was needed for successful defense
was searching for a receptor that could bind the bacterial
product, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which can cause septic shock, a life
threatening condition that involves overstimulation of the immune system. In
1998, Beutler and his colleagues discovered that mice resistant to LPS had a
mutation in a gene that was quite similar to the Toll gene of the fruit fly.
This Toll-like receptor (TLR) turned out to be the elusive LPS receptor. When
it binds LPS, signals are activated that cause inflammation and, when LPS doses
are excessive, septic shock. These findings showed that mammals and fruit flies
use similar molecules to activate innate immunity when encountering pathogenic
microorganisms. The sensors of innate immunity had finally been discovered.
The discoveries of Hoffmann and Beutler triggered an explosion
of research in innate immunity. Around a dozen different TLRs have now been
identified in humans and mice. Each one of them recognizes certain types of
molecules common in microorganisms. Individuals with certain mutations in these
receptors carry an increased risk of infections while other genetic variants of
TLR are associated with an increased risk for chronic inflammatory diseases.
A new cell type that controls adaptive immunity
Ralph Steinman discovered, in 1973, a new cell type that he
called the dendritic cell. He speculated that it could be important in the
immune system and went on to test whether dendritic cells could activate T
cells, a cell type that has a key role in adaptive immunity and develops an
immunologic memory against many different substances. In cell culture
experiments, he showed that the presence of dendritic cells resulted in vivid
responses of T cells to such substances. These findings were initially met with
skepticism but subsequent work by Steinman demonstrated that dendritic cells
have a unique capacity to activate T cells.
Further studies by Steinman and other scientists went on to
address the question of how the adaptive immune system decides whether or not
it should be activated when encountering various substances. Signals arising
from the innate immune response and sensed by dendritic cells were shown to
control T cell activation. This makes it possible for the immune system to
react towards pathogenic microorganisms while avoiding an attack on the body's
own endogenous molecules.
Analysts have been able to predict the award outcomes
rather precisely for several years. The Nobel world was originally dominated by
the Europeans—the British, Germans and the French-- and it was only after the
World War II that the Americans began to emerge as the world leaders in the
field of science, technology and economics.
Predicting Nobel prizes
easy and difficult at the same time. The analysts mainly concentrate on the
"most cited" researchers the world over. This is usually dominated by the
Americans. Once the scientists are narrowed down it becomes harder to predict
the winner. But, of late, America's investment in physical sciences is not as
much as before, therefore it is predicted
that some Asian countries, such
as China, will enter the fray and give
the Americans a run for their money.
The tissue engineering team from
the Boston, USA-- Robert Langer and
Joseph Vacanti—were those tipped to be prize winners this year. Others expected
to win include Sajeev John(Toronto, Canada) and Eli Yablonovitch (Berkeley,
California) for their impressive work on photonics, and Allen Bard (Austin,
Texas) for his research on scanning
Nobel prize for medicine
is the first to be announced . The
announcement for the prize for Medicine
will be followed by announcement for Physics, chemistry, economics
. The Nobel prize carry a worth of one million dollars and a
maximum of three individuals are
allowed to share the prize.