Scripps research scientist wins 2004 Koch Prize

04/02/04

Highly prestigious german immunology award

Professor Bruce Beutler, M.D., of The Scripps Research Institute has won the 2004 Robert Koch Award together with Professor Shizuo Akira of Osaka, Japan and Professor Jules A. Hoffmann of Strasbourg, France, the Robert Koch Foundation has announced.

"I'm completely thrilled," says Beutler, Scripps Research professor of immunology. "I have never won such a prestigious award before, and I am honored to be included with two people who are so completely deserving [as Akira and Hoffmann]."

The prize is one the highest scientific honors of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is given annually under the patronage of the Federal Minister of Health to researchers for outstanding, internationally recognized scientific achievements.

It is named in honor of Robert Koch, one of the founding fathers of immunology. Koch developed microbiological techniques that have been in use for more than 100 years. He was the first person to isolate the cholera vibrio and the anthrax bacillus, and he won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery and subsequent investigations of the tuberculosis bacillus.

In winning the Robert Koch Award, Beutler was acknowledged by the foundation for his "groundbreaking research on molecular mechanisms underlying recognition, signal transduction, and effector functions" of the immune system. He uses a technique called forward genetics to study human genes used by the innate immune system to clear pathogens from the body.

"Innate immunity plays a key role in many human diseases," says Professor Richard Ulevitch, who is the chair of the Department of Immunology at Scripps Research. "Beutler's use of forward genetics to understand innate immunity will produce novel insights into the physiological pathways and mechanisms of innate immunity as it relates to human disease."

Last year, Beutler and his Scripps Research colleague Dr. Kasper Hoebe identified a protein called Trif, which helps the body respond to viruses and bacteria. This was the first time that anyone had identified a signaling protein directly activated by signals the innate immune system sends when it recognizes both bacteria and viruses. And recently, Beutler discovered rare genetic mutations in a subset of people who come down with a kind of severe sepsis, an acute and often deadly disease.

A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, Beutler received his medical degree from the University of Chicago. He has been a professor at Scripps Research since 2000. Prior to that, he had been a Professor at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and an Assistant Professor at The Rockefeller University. He will receive his share of the total prize money of 65,000 Euros (about $83,000) in the presence of the German Federal Minister of Health and Social Safety later this year.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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