Two Yale researchers who study the immune system share Vilcek Prize
Two Yale School of Medicine researchers who study the immune system will share a 2013 Vilcek Prize
The Vilcek Foundation is a New York City-based non-profit organization devoted to raising public awareness of the contributions of immigrants to the sciences, arts, and culture in the United States.
Richard A. Flavell, chair and Sterling Professor of Immunobiology, and Ruslan M. Medzhitov, the David A. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology, were honored by the foundation for their long-standing and influential work on the innate immune system, the first line of defense against infection by bacteria and viruses.
Born in the United Kingdom, Flavell received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1970 at the University of Hull and worked in both academia and industry before joining the Yale faculty in 1988 to lead its immunobiology program. A prolific scientist, Flavell and his Yale colleagues have discovered several important receptors responsible for innate immunity, and he has made major contributions to our understanding of how activation of the innate immune system triggers the adaptive system’s more specialized immune response.
Medzhitov, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, emigrated to the United States in the early 1990s having been inspired by the then-controversial theories of innate immunity championed by the late Yale immunobiologist Dr. Charles A. Janeway Jr. At the time, innate immunity was deemed unimportant and received scant scientific attention, but by 1997 Medzhitov, Janeway, and colleagues had identified a receptor of the human innate immune system that acts as a pathogen-detecting sentinel and activates adaptive immunity. In the wake of these findings, the study of innate immunity has seen explosive growth, and Medzhitov’s work continues to have significant implications for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and other illnesses.
The Vilcek Foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation was inspired by the couple’s respective careers in biomedical science and art history, as well as their personal experiences and appreciation for the opportunities offered them as newcomers to the United States. The foundation achieves its mission through hosting immigrant artists and performers at their cultural space in New York City, awarding the annual Vilcek Prizes in the biomedical sciences and the arts and humanities, and sponsoring programs such as the Hawaii International Film Festival.
This article was submitted by Claire M. Bessinger - Van Graan on February 13, 2013.