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Research pioneers in immunology

Alberto Mantovani and Michel C. Nussenzweig receive the Robert Koch Award for their outstanding achievements in immune system research.

© The Rockefeller University - Michel Nussenzweig

Professor Alberto Mantovani from Humanitas University Milan and Michel C. Nussenzweig from Rockefeller University in New York have won the 2016 Robert Koch Foundation Award and will share the prize of 100,000 euros. The award is in recognition of their work in immunology which has resulted in new treatment options, for example in cancer or in the fight against HIV infections. Professor Kai Simons from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, will receive the Robert Koch Gold Medal for his lifetime achievements.

The German physician Robert Koch, after whom the award is named, was the founder of modern-day bacteriology more than 100 years ago.

“People said I was crazy”

The Italian physician Alberto Mantovani is being recognized for his pioneering work on the link between inflammation reactions and cancer. He has shown that macrophages, which act as scavenger cells within the immune system, can be reprogrammed in the tissues that are low in oxygen surrounding tumours. Consequently, instead of weakening tumour growth and the formation of metastases, they actually promote these processes. Professor Mantovani’s findings have led to a new perspective in tumour biology which is now helping to develop new approaches for immune therapies. He recalls: “In the early 1980s during a meeting of the Italian Society of Immunology, people said I must be crazy to maintain that macrophages can trigger cancer. The Robert Koch Award is recognizing what seemed to be a crazy idea back then,”

Antibodies against HIV

During his work Michel C. Nussenzweig, a physician from Brazil, discovered broad and potent neutralizing antibodies to HIV type1 and established that they can help infected humans. He says: “HIV-1 is a major global issue in public health. And it is a fascinating scientific issue that we have been unable to develop a vaccine or a cure so far.”

The Robert Koch Award is one of the most prestigious prizes in Germany. It is awarded annually for outstanding achievements in science. The prizes and awards will be presented at a ceremony in Berlin on 4 November 2016.

Robert Koch Award Ceremony on 4 November 2016 in Berlin