Robert Koch Foundation Award Ceremony

Fundamental research paves the way for potential new therapies

Berlin, 12 November 2010

Immunological research by the award-winners provides new findings on combating infectious diseases and transmission of malaria.

The Robert Koch Foundation presented the 2010 Robert Koch Award, along with 100,000 euros in prize money, to Professor Dr. Max Dale Cooper, Atlanta, USA. Professor Dr. Fotis C. Kafatos, London, Great Britain, was awarded the Robert Koch Gold Medal. Mrs. Annette Widmann-Mauz, state secretary of the Federal Minister of Health, presented the awards at the Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Berlin on November 12.

Robert Koch Award
Professor Cooper, a fundamental researcher in immunology and infection biology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, was awarded the Robert Koch Medal and prize money in recognition of his pioneering studies into evolution and development of the adaptive immune system in vertebrates. The immunologist has also made a series of discoveries which contribute to understanding how white blood cells (leukocytes) combat infections in the body and how they degenerate in leukaemia (blood cancer) and lymphomas (cancer of the lymph nodes) and attack the patient’s body in autoimmune diseases. Cooper also laid the foundations for much important progress in illuminating infectious diseases and developing vaccines. Currently, Cooper and his team are studying a new class of antibody-like proteins produced by the immune systems of certain fish, the eel-like lamprey and hagfish. The proteins have unique properties, which may be useful in diagnosing and treating infectious diseases in humans.

Robert Koch Gold Medal
In recognition of his life’s work in researching insect immunogenomics, Professor Kafatos of the Chair of Genomics and Immunoregulation at Imperial College in London was awarded the Robert Koch Gold Medal. The scientist was also President of the European Research Council from 2007 to 2010. By discovering many genes, his research contributed to a better understanding of the immune system of the anopheles species of malaria mosquito. When the mosquito absorbs the plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria, by consuming human blood, the parasite can multiply by deactivating certain genes in the insect, while no multiplication occurs if other genes are deactivated. The objectives of the research include using genetic or chemical processes to deactivate the genes which promote multiplication of the parasites, thus preventing the transmission of malaria.

Postdoctoral Awards for Young Scientists
The postdoctoral awards of the Robert Koch Foundation for outstanding work by young scientists, with prize money of 5,000 euros each, were also presented during the ceremony. The German Societies of Hygiene and Microbiology, of Immunology and of Virology can nominate candidates. Dr. biol. hum. Michael Schindler, Hamburg, received the postdoctoral award for his work on evolution and the function of lentiviruses. Dr. rer. nat. Tanja Schneider, Bonn, was presented with the award for microbiology in recognition of her studies characterising new antimicrobial substances. Dr. rer. nat. Koji Tokoyoda, Berlin and Chiba, Japan, won the award for immunology for his work on the formation and development of the immunological memory.