Carl F. Nathan

Robert Koch Award 2009

The Robert Koch Foundation has given the 2009 Robert Koch Award, worth a total of EUR 100,000, to Dr. Carl Nathan.

Dr. Nathan, Chairman of Microbiology and Immunology and Professor of Microbiology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, USA, has been honored for his groundbreaking research into the mechanisms of antibacterial infection resistance. He was able to show that an inorganic gas, nitrogen monoxide (NO), is formed by activated macrophages and plays a role in defending the body against pathogens.

Although macrophages attack the microbes with chemicals such as NO, tuberculosis bacteria are able to dodge the body’s immune defenses and embed themselves as dormant pathogens in the macrophages. They use mycobacterial metallothionein (MymT), the protein isolated by Dr. Nathan, to act as a barrier against attack by the macrophages. A further discovery made by Dr. Nathan and his team is the enzyme dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase (DlaT), which provides the tuberculosis bacteria with energy and also helps to protect them against attack by the immune cells. The scientists are now looking for active substances which inhibit DlaT and can thus destroy pathogens which have entered the body.