Irving Weissman

Robert Koch Award 2008, together with Hans Robert Schöler and Shinya Yamanaka

On November 14, the Robert Koch Foundation awarded the 2008 Robert Koch Award, endowed with a total of €100,000, jointly to Professor Hans Robert Schöler, Professor Irving Weissman and Professor Shinya Yamanaka.

Professor Weissman, who is Director of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, received the prize in recognition of his pioneering research into the phylogeny and developmental biology of stem cells of the blood and immune system. Professor Weissman developed a method for isolating stem cells for the hemopoietic system in mice and humans. He also discovered stem cells for nerve tissue, muscles and other organs. Furthermore, Professor Weissman managed to show that a single stem cell can divide into thousands of stem cells that then form many millions of blood cells. He also characterized the surface structure of tumor stem cells. This advance allowed high-level purification of human stem cells, for example the cells of the hemopoietic system. Purification is nowadays indispensable, so that stem cells from healthy donors can be transplanted into leukemia patients. This lowers the incidence of life-threatening side effects and consequently increases therapeutic benefit.