Local resident receives prestigious award for early-career scientists

Dr. Shane Crotty
Dr. Shane Crotty

Carmel Valley resident Shane Crotty, Ph.D., a scientist at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology, has been selected for the prestigious Biosciences Investigator Award in recognition of his groundbreaking work in vaccine research.  The award is presented annually by the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) and recognizes early-career investigators for outstanding research contributions to the field of immunology.

“The recipients of this award are considered to be rising stars with great momentum who have already shown exceptional talent and creativity, have been well and widely published, and are sought-after speakers,” said Mary T. Litzinger, Ph.D., an AAI spokeswoman.

Crotty was formally presented with the award at the AAI conference, attended by over 3,000 scientists, and held from May 4-8 in Boston.  “I am honored to receive this award,” he said. “Many of the previous recipients have become true leaders of immunology and I am humbled to be considered in their company.”

Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D., La Jolla Institute president and chief scientific officer, said Dr. Crotty’s selection comes as no surprise. “While still relatively early in his career, Dr. Crotty is a researcher of the highest caliber, whose breakthrough discoveries have significantly advanced scientific understanding of vaccine mechanisms,” he said.  “I anticipate we will be hearing much more in this area from Dr. Crotty in the coming years and that his work will be central to worldwide efforts to create vaccines against many dangerous pathogens.”

As part of his selection, Crotty received a cash prize and was asked to present a full-length lecture, a privilege awarded to only a few speakers at the annual meeting.  Crotty spoke on his vaccine research, which in 2009 resulted in his seminal discovery of a molecular trigger for generating potent antibodies — the body’s disease-fighting warriors and the basis for most vaccines.

“This was a landmark study that has implications for optimizing vaccine development,” said Rafi Ahmed, Ph.D., a nationally prominent vaccine researcher and director of the Emory University School of Medicine’s Vaccine Center.  “By identifying this molecular “master regulator” leading to effective long-term antibody responses, Dr. Crotty’s discovery opens the door to developing ways to boost antibody production, thereby creating stronger and more effective vaccines.”

Kronenberg said the finding was “enormous in terms of its long-term benefit to science and society as a whole” and answered a critical question that had long been sought by the scientific community.  “Dr. Crotty’s results reveal the mechanisms that allow us to make antibodies against a disease-causing organism years after a successful vaccination, a phenomenon known as immune memory.  Understanding how this works could help in the development of vaccines against many agents, such as the ones that cause AIDS or tuberculosis, which still lack effective vaccines despite much effort.”

The discovery was front page news in San Diego and also drew national interest, landing Dr. Crotty as a guest on National Public Radio. It wasn’t the first time Crotty’s achievements have earned national notice.  In 2005 he was named one of America’s “Most Promising Biomedical Researchers” by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which describes recipients as those expected to advance the scientific frontier.  In addition, his discovery of a potential antibody treatment for smallpox drew the attention of the National Institutes of Health, which in 2008 awarded him a $7.1 million grant to continue his efforts.  The treatment could be the nation’s first line of defense in protecting against a terrorist-originated smallpox outbreak and may eventually be stockpiled nationwide alongside the smallpox vaccine.

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