Shimon Sakaguchi

Robert Koch Award 2020

The “regulatory T-cells”, for whose discovery the Japanese Shimon Sakaguchi will be awarded the 2020 Robert Koch Award, are regarded as peacemakers of the immune system. This is because they prevent defence cells patrolling the body from attacking the body’s own tissue. If these cells do not function properly, they can cause autoimmune diseases or allergies. If they are missing completely, patients might even suffer from a number of autoimmune diseases at the same time, as is the case with IPEX syndrome, a rare hereditary disease. For a long time it was a matter of dispute whether such guard cells, to which we ultimately owe the self-tolerance of our immune system, existed at all. But Professor Sakaguchi held on to the idea with admirable persistence – until he actually succeeded in capturing them.