Immunology through Nobel Prize recipients

The History of Immunology is marked by discoveries awarded the prestigious NOBEL PRIZE in physiology and medicine. Immunologists were so often awarded this Prize that many aspects of immunology can be discussed through the personnality and work of the winners of this award.
By clicking on the links below, you will discover who are the winners of the Nobel Prize in the field of Immunology and why theyr were awarded this Prize!

Emile von Behring
- Emile von Behring  was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1901 or his discovery  of "antitoxins", molecules that prevent blood from the action of toxins produced by bacteria such as the famous tetanus toxin or diphteria toxin. He is somehow the precursor of serotherapy, a therapeutic approach that consist in injecting antibodies directed against and neutralizing the toxins to patients (used in the case of microbial toxins, venoms from various snakes, scorpion etc...).

Paul Ehrlich
Ilya Mechnikov
- Ilya Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for the discovery that our immune system has got two "arms" to fight against microbes: a "cellular" arm whereby cells of our immune system destroy microbes and a "molecular" arm where circulating molecule do this job.  Ever since this discovery we talk about cellular immunity, carried out by cells and the humoral immunity, carried out by "humors" i.e. molecules circulating in biological fluids.

Charles Richet
- Charles Richet was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 or his work on anaphylaxis, which is a phenomenon illustrating the adverse (sometimes fatal) effects of our immune system. We now know that anaphylaxis (whose effects include angioedema for instance) is a shock following strong hypersensitivity or allergy.

Jules Bordet
 - Jules Bordet got the Nobel Prize in 1919 for the discovery of complement, a system of molecules found in the blood, which complement (hence its name) with antibodies to allow the destruction of microbes. We now know that the complement also has important roles even in the absence of antibody. The action of complement proceeds by a complex cascade of events hated by many students!

- Karl Landsteiner got the Nobel Prize in 1930 for the discovery of blood groups. It is only after Landsteiner's work that it became possible to make blood transfusions choosing the blood so that it is not destroyed by the recipient's immune system. This discovery fully belongs to immunology since the destruction of red blood cells from a donor by a receiver involves antibodies!

- Sir Franck McFarlane-Burnet and Peter Medawar had the Nobel Prize in 1960 for explaining how our immune system, when all goes well, learn to attack microbes while preserving our own body [phenomenon known as SELF (our body) / NON-SELF (microbes) discrimination]! It looks like philosophy! It is not so far and in fact this theory has its supporters and its detractors. Polly Matzinger, a famous immunologist has challenged this concept by  proposing that the immune system is not meant to distinguish SELF from NON-SELF but rather to distinguing DANGER from ABSENCE OF DANGER. To illustrate the difference, Polly Matzinger asked the question: Why do pregnant female accept rather than reject the foetus? Do you still follow us?
Sir Franck McFarlane-Burnet

Peter Medawar

- Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter had the Nobel Prize in 1972 for discovering the structure of the famous antibody molecules , true "fronds" (Y-shaped) of our immune system.
Gerald Edelman

Rodney Porter

- Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Dausset (french citizen, born in Toulouse) and Georges Snell had the Nobel Prize in 1980 for the discovery of histocompatibility. There is a code present on the surface of our cells and specific to each of us, which defines our "immunological" identity. We understand better the importance of this code if you know that it is governing the acceptance (when the codes are compatible) or rejection (when they are incompatible) of transplants. This system also governs our detection of infected or cancerous cells by T lymphocytes This system is also well known as the "HLA" system.
Baruj Benacerraf

Jean Dausset
Georges Snell

- Niels Jerne, Georges Kohler and Cesar Milstein had the Nobel Prize in 1984 for the discovery of monoclonal antibodies. They found a way to produce large quantities of of ad hoc antibodies that can be used in research laboratory and in medicine.
Niels Jerne

Georges Kohler

Cesar Milstein
Susumu Tonegawa
- Susumu Tonegawa got the Nobel Prize in 1987 for the discovery of genetic mechanisms allowing our body to produce antibodies against hundreds of billions of different molecules. At the time it was taught the concept "1 gene gives 1 protein" but of course this concept could not explain how billions of antibody proteins could be produced with only a few tens of thousands of genes available!

- Rolf Zinkernagel and Peter Doherty had the Nobel Prize in 1996 for the discovery of MHC restriction. Behind this name hides the discovery of the complex mechanisms whereby  "killer" cells of our immune system get rid of virus-infected cells. Surprisingly, this brings us to the discovery of the HLA system, as the same molecules that prevent us from receiving transplants also help us eliminate viruses!
Peter Doherty

Rolf Zinkernagel

- Ralph Steinman, Jules Hoffmann and Bruce Beutler had the Nobel Prize in 2011 for the discovery of "receptors" for microbes found on our cells as well as for the discovery of the dendritic cells, so important for our immune system.
Jules Hoffmann

Ralph Steinman

Bruce Beutler

You might be surprised not to read the name of Louis Pasteur. In spite of his major contribution to the concept of vaccination, Louis Pasteur was never awarded the Nobel Prize (it is a matter of fact that many prestigious researchers did not receive the Nobel Prize for their work).
Louis Pasteur

For this page, external links are from the Nobel Prize organization.

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