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On October 3, 2011 the biologist and immunologist Jules Alphonse Hoffmann (70), a member of the Leopoldina and former President of the French national academy “Académie des sciences“, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The award was split into two halves, one of which was shared by Hoffman and the American Bruce A. Beutler for their immune system research, with special reference to their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity. The Prize was presented by the King of Sweden in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
The other half of the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to the Canadian Ralph M. Steinman for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity. He had unfortunately already passed away on September 30, 2011. The Nobel Foundation had not been aware of this but on the 4th of October decided to nevertheless adhere to their decision to award Steinman the Prize.
The research done by the three laureates revolutionized our understanding of the immune system. Beutler and Hoffmann discovered receptor proteins that are able to recognize bacteria and microorganisms that enter the body and activate the immune system’s first line of defence. The dendritic cells discovered by Steinman are the active agents in the next phase of the immune system’s reaction. The Nobel Committee found that new fields of research have been opened up as a result of the discoveries of these three immunologists, research that can advance the development of therapies and preventive measures against infections, cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Jules Hoffmann was born in Luxemburg in 1941 and has been a French citizen since 1970. He studied biology and chemistry at the Louis Pasteur University of Strasbourg and graduated in 1969. He began as a research assistant in 1964 and subsequently became the Research Director at the “Centre national de la recherche scientifique” (CNRS) in Strasbourg in 1974. In 1978 he became a professor of zoology and general biology at the Louis Pasteur University. From 1994-2006 Hoffmann was the Director of the CNRS Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology. In the years 2007-2008 he was the President of the French national academy “Académie des sciences „ in Paris where he had been a Corresponding Member since 1987, finally becoming a full member in 1992.
Hoffmann has had an on-going relationship with the Leopoldina where he has been a member since 1988. For instance, it was he who delivered the official speech on the occasion of the Leopoldina´s being designated the German National Academy of Sciences in 2008. The Leopoldina also benefited from his considerable expertise when he served as a Senator there for a number of years, that relationship having only ended in autumn of this year.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded since 1901. The endowment for this Prize is equivalent to 1.1 million euros. The Swedish Karolinska Institute selects the winner of the Prize. As set out in Alfred Nobel’s will dated November 27, 1895, the award shall be given to “the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine”. A total of 199 people have been awarded the Nobel Prize since its inception.