Robert Koch Foundation confers award on professors Galán and Winnacker

Honour and recognition for outstanding contributions to research in the fields of microbiology and life sciences

Berlin, November 11, 2011

Underlying mechanisms of bacterial pathogenicity revealed / medal in gold for commitment to the advancement of science in Germany

The Robert Koch Foundation has awarded the 2011 Robert Koch Prize worth 100,000 euros to the microbiologist >> Jorge Galán of New Haven, USA. The Robert Koch Gold Medal has been awarded to the biochemist >> Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, currently Strasbourg, France. The State Secretary Widmann-Mauz presented the prizes in a ceremony at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities on November 11, 2011.

Robert Koch Prize
Professor Galán, who chairs the Section of Microbial Pathogenesis in the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, USA, was awarded the prize for his fundamental research on the molecular analysis of pathogenic mechanisms, as well as for his significant role in establishing cellular microbiology as a scientific field.

Galán studied the processes by which numerous pathogens deliver their proteins to the host cells of humans, animals, plants and insects and then alter their functions. These mechanisms ensure the survival of the pathogens, while triggering an infection in the host. Galán and his team focussed principally on the pathogens Salmonella enterica and Campylobacter jejuni as the main causes of infectious gastroenteritis worldwide and responsible for an estimated 2,000,000 deaths every year.
The multidisciplinary team of experts in genetics, cell biology and immunology investigated the mechanisms of infection. One of the scientists’ fundamental discoveries was proof that a specialised organelle (area of a cell with a special function) in Salmonella enterica was responsible for delivering virulence proteins into the host cells.

The scientists are hoping that this crucial information will enable them to understand the mechanisms of numerous other bacterial infections, such as typhus, cholera and food poisoning The ultimate aim in revealing these molecular processes is the development of new strategies with which to combat such diseases.

Robert Koch Medal in Gold
The Medal in Gold for his life’s work was awarded to Professor Winnacker, the current General Secretary of the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) in Strasbourg, France. Winnacker has contributed significantly to the description of life processes at molecular level and therefore to the development of molecular biology and genetic engineering. As a result of his many years as a member of numerous different research associations and committees, he has had a significant bearing on international research in the field of life science research, as well as on policy-making in this field. His position also allowed him to provide invaluable impulses to the sustainable development of the German and European scientific system.
Born in the German city of Frankfurt/Main, the former long-standing president of the German Research Foundation (DFG) was able to make best use of his role to render outstanding services to the promotion of young scientists. Winnacker was also one of the initiators of the Excellence Initiative, which has had a tremendous impact on the German academic landscape in recent years, as well as being a strong advocate of ‘science without borders’ and overcoming national egoism.

Postdoctoral prizes for young scientists
Also awarded at the ceremony were the Robert Koch Foundation Postdoctoral Prizes for outstanding work by young scientists, which are worth 5,000 euros each. The German Societies for Hygiene and Microbiology, Immunology and Virology exercise a right to put forward appropriate candidates.

The Postdoctoral Prize for virology was awarded to >> Dr. med. Lars Dölken, Munich, for his work on viral persistence in host cells. >> Dr. rer. nat. Cynthia Sharma, Würzburg, was awarded the prize for microbiology in recognition of her work on the regulation of gene expression in pathogens. >> Dr. rer. nat. Cécilia Chassin, Hanover was awarded the immunology prize for her studies on the analysis of the congenital immune system.