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With their outstanding research, laureates lay the foun-dation for understanding the way in which different immunological mechanisms function

June 22, 2016

Robert Koch Award for 2016 goes to Alberto Mantovani and Michel C. Nussenzweig /
Kai Simons receives the Robert Koch Gold Medal

Berlin – The Robert Koch Foundation is jointly awarding this year’s 100,000 Euro Robert Koch Award to Professors Alberto Mantovani, Humanitas University, Milan, Italy, and Michel C. Nussenzweig, The Rockefeller University/Howard Hughes Medical Institute, New York, USA. The award honors the pioneering research work conducted by both immunologists, which has resulted in new treatment options, for example in cancer or in the fight against HIV infections.

Professor Kai Simons, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, receives the Robert Koch Gold Medal for his lifetime achievements, in particular for his characterization of membrane-forming lipids and the development of the Lipid Raft Model.

The awards will be presented at an official ceremony on November 4, 2016 at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin.


Photos and CVs of the laureates:
>>Alberto Mantovani
>>Michel C. Nussenzweig
>>Kai Simons


Professor Alberto Mantovani is being recognized for his pioneering work on the link between inflammation and cancer. With his observations that cells of the innate immune system accumulate around certain cancer foci, he opened up an entirely new field of research. Mantovani was able to prove that phagocytes, which are involved in the natural inflammatory response, can be reprogramed in the oxygen-deficient microenvironment of tumors and influence tumor growth. The so-called “tumor-associated macrophages” behave as “corrupted policemen”: they promote cancer cell proliferation, release angiogenic factors that encourage new blood vessels to grow into the tumor and, by releasing enzymes, make the surrounding tissue more permeable to tumor cells, which can promote the formation of metastases. They also contribute to taming effective anti-tumor immunity by triggering molecular breaks called checkpoints in lymphocytes. By characterizing the involved chemokines and their receptors, Mantovani was able to demonstrate how a chronic inflammatory response promotes the development and metastasis of cancer. These studies paved the way to a change in paradigm on the nature of cancer, from a tumor cell-centric view to one that includes corruption and taming of immune cells as an essential component of the “ecological niche” of neoplasia. This shift in vision is now reflected in the development of immunotherapy approaches targeting checkpoints and corrupted policemen.

Michel C. Nussenzweig’s groundbreaking work uncovered broad and potent neutralizing antibodies to HIV-1 and established that they are a safe and effective immunotherapeutic for infected humans. Nussenzweig addressed a fundamental issue in immunology – the lack of a detailed understanding of the human antibody response – by developing robust and scalable methods for the cloning of antibody genes from single human B cells. He first applied this approach to define how tolerance develops in normal individuals and later to the HIV-1 antibody problem.

Antibodies that neutralize HIV-1 were first isolated early in the epidemic. Although these antibodies protected macaques from infection, the doses were so high that it led the field to abandon antibody-based vaccines and therapies. Nussenzweig’s discoveries of potent anti-HIV antibodies have re-energized the vaccine field and opened the door to new antibody based methods for HIV-1 prevention and therapy.

Nussenzweig made the key breakthrough in this area by applying his antibody cloning techniques to anti-HIV antibodies. His work, and that of others that rapidly adopted his methods, led to the discovery of naturally arising anti-HIV antibodies that were orders of magnitude more potent than previously known antibodies. Moreover, they revealed novel targets of vulnerability. The new antibodies neutralized up to 95% of all HIV-1 strains individually, and nearly all known strains when combined even at very low concentrations.

The antibody cloning experiments revealed that anti-HIV-1 antibodies differ from antibodies to nearly all other pathogens in their high rate of somatic mutation. This observation led Nussenzweig to propose the idea that these antibodies arise by sequential, iterative rounds of antibody mutation, selection, and viral escape. Nussenzweig went on to establish that sequential immunization can elicit such antibodies in mouse models and his ideas are the basis for new vaccination trials in humans.

In addition to his work on vaccines, Nussenzweig established that passive administration of the antibodies he cloned can control infection in humanized mice and in macaques chronically infected with SHIV. Moreover, he showed that a single antibody injection can protect macaques from SHIV infection for up to 23 weeks and he established a relationship between antibody concentration in serum and protective activity.

The results obtained in Nussenzweig’s pre-clinical studies led him to conduct phase 1 clinical trials in HIV-1 infected individuals. His groundbreaking studies in humans established that antibodies are safe and effective for HIV-1 prevention and therapy in humans. A single infusion of one of his antibodies, 3BNC117, was well-tolerated, rapidly decreased viral loads in viremic individuals by an average of 1.48 logs, and this effect remained significant for 4 weeks. In addition, the antibody infusions activated endogenous host immune responses against the virus, and accelerated the clearance of virus and infected cells.

Based on his results Nussenzweig proposed that antibodies might be administered on a quarterly or bi-annual basis for therapy or passive protection in humans. Clinical trials to test this idea are currently underway.

Gold Medal for the characterization of membrane-forming lipids and the development of the Lipid Raft Model

Professor Kai Simons receives the Robert Koch Medal in Gold for his impressive lifetime achievements, which took him from Finland via the USA to Heidelberg and to the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. He is an expert for cell membranes, those wafer-thin membranes made of a double layer of fat molecules (“lipids”) which surround each cell of the human body. It was long thought that these membranes were only a largely uniform fluid matrix. Thanks to Kai Simons, it has been possible to clearly demonstrate the great dynamic and wide range of functions of lipid membrane systems. He discovered island-like structures in the lipid bilayer of cell membranes, which reminded him of the log rafts of Finnish lumberjacks drifting downstream – hence the name “lipid rafts”. However, in fact these nanodomains are dynamic. They fluctuate in size and can be clustered to form liquid platforms that play a significant role in signal transduction and many other membrane processes.

The lipid raft model is linked to new therapy approaches, for example in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, in which malfunctions in lipid rafts play a role. Kai Simons also found clear evidence that many viruses – including influenza, Ebola, measles and HI viruses – use lipid rafts to invade their host cells or to leave them again, by encasing themselves with rafts from the cell membrane.

About the Robert Koch Foundation

The Robert Koch Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the promotion of medical progress and is based in Berlin. It promotes basic scientific research in the field of infectious diseases, as well as exemplary projects that address medical and hygienic issues. Patron of the Foundation, which was founded in 1907, is German President Joachim Gauck.

The Foundation confers a number of distinguished scientific awards each year: the Robert Koch Award – one of Germany’s most distinguished scientific awards, the Robert Koch Gold Medal, three awards for young scientists and, since 2013, the Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention Award.

Robert Koch (1843 – 1910), after whom the award is named, was the founder of modern-day bacteriology, for which he was awarded the 1905 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. From 1891 until his retirement in 1904, Koch was Head of the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin.

Contact:

Christine Howarth, Tel. +49 (0)30-468-11599, E-Mail: info@robert-koch-stiftung.de

FURTHER INFORMATION

Berlin-based hygiene expert Professor Petra Gastmeier receives the Robert Koch Award for Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention 2015

7. September 2015

For her outstanding achievements in the surveillance of nosocomial infections, Professor >>Petra Gastmeier has been honoured with the “Award for Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention” from the Robert Koch Foundation in Berlin. After Professor Helge Karch (Münster), the Head of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is the second laureate of the award, which was founded in 2013 and comes with a prize of 50,000 euros. “With the establishment of the KISS system for the surveillance of infections in German hospitals, the laureate and her team have played a significant role in improving hospital hygiene throughout Germany,” comments Hubertus Erlen, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Robert Koch Foundation. The award was presented on Monday, September 7, 2015 in the grand ballroom at Berlin City Hall.

Professor Gastmeier’s tools of the trade are not scalpels, stethoscopes or medication. Instead, she takes action in fighting the spread of hospital-acquired infections using training measures and hygiene modules. Nosocomial infections are one of the most critical complications associated with medical treatments in Germany, and result in prolonged stays in hospital and higher costs in addition to the personal suffering of the patients. While exact figures are not available, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 patients die annually as a result of an infection acquired at hospital. The recent outbreaks of Acinetobacter baumannii in German hospitals and cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Korea highlight how difficult it is to detect and prevent nosocomial infections.

Recording and monitoring nosocomial infections is an extremely effective tool for their prevention. Petra Gastmeier and her team at the German National Reference Center for Surveillance of Nosocomial Infections have developed a system used for the surveillance of infections in German hospitals – better known by its catchy abbreviated name KISS (Krankenhaus-Infektions-Surveillance-System) – and have made significant improvements in protecting patients from hospital-acquired infections. From 20 participating hospitals at the launch of the system in 1996, this number has now grown to over 1,400. The hospitals compare their own infection data with reference data and figures from comparable units in order to classify their own infection and hygiene standards and to introduce and evaluate preventative measures. The voluntary participation and confidentiality of the results are both fundamental principles of the KISS system.

Gastmeier has made the establishment of KISS, the scientific analysis of the data and the consistent implementation in medical practice her main objective. In contrast to other countries, additional surveillance modules have been developed for the KISS system used by Professor Gastmeier and her team. Of these, HAND-KISS for hand hygiene is the most commonly used and is found in more than 1,000 participating hospitals. The KISS modules are tailored to patient groups (e.g. NEO-KISS for premature babies), the range of treatments (e.g. OP-KISS for surgical units) or a specific pathogen (MRSA-KISS). Using these modules enables the participating units to identify shortcomings in hygiene standards and to rectify them accordingly. Comprehensive databases have also been established through the KISS system. These enable a scientific analysis of the epidemiology and pathogenesis of nosocomial infections to be made and the influence of various factors associated with patients and hospitals to be measured.

Of particular importance in hospital hygiene are pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics (such as staphylococci, acinetobacters and pseudomonads), which can only be treated to a limited extent when resistant against three or four of the available classes of antibiotics. Moreover, there is a high risk of these germs spreading within the hospital. There are two approaches towards preventing infections caused by multiresistant pathogens – consultation when prescribing antibiotics and compiling regulations (antibiotic stewardship) and preventing the pathogens from being transmitted by hospital staff and patients. Petra Gastmeier has made an outstanding contribution in these fields. One such example is the “Aktion saubere Hände” (Clean Hands Initiative), a campaign she has led since 2008 for improving hand disinfection in German healthcare facilities. The consumption of disinfectants is recorded at the 1,500 participating institutions – such as hospitals and care homes – and the use of disinfectants has been increased by up to 80% thanks to training measures.

Petra Gastmeier is also the laureate of the main award from the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie, DGHM) and the Hygiene Prize at the Rudolf Schülke Foundation. She is member of the Commission for Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention and the Advisory Board for Infection Epidemiology/Public Health Microbiology at the Robert Koch Institute. Gastmeier and her colleagues have had over 300 scientific contributions published in renowned international journals. With all of these achievements, it is no surprise that she is known under the moniker “Miss Kiss” in hygiene circles – a very special kind of honorary title.


>> Photo and CV of Petra Gastmeier
>> Photos of the award ceremony


Information on the award
In Germany, approximately 500,000 patients contract hospital infections each year, more than 10,000 cases of which are fatal. These statistics indicate that advanced medicine has reached its limits. Improvements in the implementation of hospital hygiene and the development of new strategies in therapy and the prevention of nosocomial infections are urgently needed. This is why the Robert Koch Foundation introduced the Prize for Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention two years ago, with the aim of drawing attention to exemplary achievements in the field of hospital hygiene and infection prevention. It is intended to serve as an incentive to improve the standard of hygiene in our hospitals through new scientific and application-oriented projects.

The Prize is financially supported by B. Braun Melsungen AG.

About the Robert Koch Foundation

The Robert Koch Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the promotion of medical progress and is based in Berlin. It promotes basic scientific research in the field of infectious diseases, as well as exemplary projects that address medical and hygienic issues. Patron of the Foundation, which was founded in 1907, is German President Joachim Gauck.

The Foundation confers a number of distinguished scientific awards each year: the Robert Koch Award – one of Germany’s most distinguished scientific awards, the Robert Koch Gold Medal, three awards for young scientists and, for the first time in 2013, the Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention Award.

Robert Koch (1843 – 1910), after whom the award is named, was the founder of modern-day bacteriology, for which he was awarded the 1905 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. From 1891 until his retirement in 1904, Koch was Head of the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin.

Contact:
Christine Howarth, Tel. +49 (0)30-468-11599, email: info@robert-koch-stiftung.de

FURTHER INFORMATION