Robert Koch Award 2011
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.