Bruce Beutler, M.D., of The Scripps Research Institute will share the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research with Ralph M. Steinman, M.D., of Rockefeller University for discoveries that have transformed the field of immunology.
The $500,000 Prize is the largest award in medicine or science in the United States.
They were honored at a news conference and luncheon held Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn at Albany Medical Center.
"Collectively, the work of these scientists has led to a dramatically better understanding of the human immune system, in health and in disease," James J. Barba, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center, who served as chairman of the National Selection Committee, said in a press release.
"That knowledge has already directly resulted in new therapies for people with conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Crohn's disease and cancer. And, the discoveries they have made about how the body senses and responds to infection remain the basis of active research that holds the promise of new and improved vaccines and innovative ways to harness the power of the immune system to better fight viruses and bacterial illness. Their achievements are nothing short of astounding."
This is the ninth year the Albany Medical Center Prize has been awarded. It was established in 2000 by the late Morris "Marty" Silverman to honor scientists whose work has translated from "the bench to the bedside" resulting in better outcomes for patients. A $50 million gift commitment from the Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation to Albany Medical Center provides for the prize to be awarded annually for 100 years.
Like all vertebrates, the human body has two immune systems that work separately and in combination-adaptive immunity (the more widely understood), which learns to recognize and respond to specific bacteria, viruses and other microbes over time using receptors, or "signaling messengers," located on white blood cells; and innate immunity, which recognizes and responds instantly (without prior exposure) to fight off the countless infectious agents and microbes people are exposed to daily.
Defined in the early 1900s, knowledge about how adaptive immunity works translated into the development of many effective vaccines including those for measles, polio and influenza.
But the question, "How do you start this immune response?' had yet to be answered until Drs. Steinman, Charles Dinarello and Beutler effectively figured it out, and forever changed the field of immunology.
The first revelation came in 1973 at a lab at Rockefeller University when Steinman, who is now the Henry G. Kunkel Professor in Rockefeller's Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunology, discovered a previously unknown type of white blood cell-which he named the dendritic cell. These pivotal cells turned out to be the "missing link" in innate immunity; as its central regulator, they process germs to initiate the front-line immune response. Dendritic cells, ever watchful for invaders, "tell" other white blood cells called T-cells to multiply and get the immune system ready to "fight the enemy" or they give the word to other cells to ignore agents that will not harm the host.