Jean-Laurent Casanova

Robert Koch Award 2014, together with Alain Fischer

This year the Robert Koch Foundation’s €100,000 Robert Koch Award is being equally divided between Professors Jean-Laurent Casanova from Rockefeller University / Howard Hughes Medical Institute, New York, USA, and Alain Fischer from the Collège de France and Imagine Institute, Hôpital Necker-Enfants-Malades, Paris, France. The two scientists are being honored for their groundbreaking work on understanding host genes and their products in infectious diseases.

Professor Jean-Laurent Casanova heads the St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Disease at Rockefeller University, New York, USA. The pediatric immunologist pursued the question as to why some children develop severe infectious diseases after coming into contact with certain pathogens, while most other children do not. In his pioneering research, Casanova and his colleagues discovered “holes” in the immune systems of otherwise healthy children that make them susceptible to specific, sometimes life-threatening infectious diseases. These “holes” are caused by congenital mutations in a single gene, and are responsible for the susceptibility to certain infections including mycobacterial diseases, herpes simplex virus encephalitis, invasive pneumococcal disease, chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis, or Kaposi sarcoma.

The practical implementations of these findings include molecular diagnosis and genetic counselling for the patients and their families as well as the development of targeted therapies with recombinant cytokines aimed at restoring a deficient immune response.