Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of the St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, has been named the Seymour and Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research 2012 laureate. He will receive the prize at the annual meeting of the International Society of Interferon and Cytokine Research in September.
The Milstein Award was established in 1988, two years after interferon was first approved for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia. Since that time, it has been widely recognized that interferons and the larger class of cytokines play critical roles in the development and progression of many major diseases including cancer, viral diseases such as hepatitis and influenza, and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and lupus.
The Milstein Award, which represents the pinnacle of scientific achievement in interferon and cytokine research, is bestowed upon a leading biomedical research scientist who has made outstanding contributions to interferon and cytokine research, either in a basic or applied field. Many laureates have made seminal advancements that have enabled the successful treatment of disease or have the potential to lead to significant health benefits for humanity.
Among Casanova’s many contributions is the discovery of a new group of genetic defects that predispose otherwise healthy individuals or populations to a single type of infection. His discoveries have altered a paradigm that has prevailed in this field for decades. These discoveries have shaped the specific working hypothesis that severe infectious diseases of childhood result from collections of rare single-gene variations. Casanova’s work helped to decipher the molecular genetic basis of various pediatric infectious diseases, including mycobacterial diseases, invasive pneumococcal disease, herpes simplex encephalitis and chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis. These studies have important clinical implications, as they provide a basis for genetic counseling and a rationale for developing new therapeutic approaches based on an understanding of the host component of infectious diseases. These studies also have major biological implications, as they define or help to define the functions of many of these host defense genes.
Casanova was an international research scholar with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 2005 to 2008 and was appointed professor and head of laboratory at Rockefeller in 2008. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Casanova was the recipient of the Professor Lucien Dautrebande Pathophysiology Foundation Prize from the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine in 2004, the Richard Lounsbery Award from the French and American Academies of Sciences in 2008, the Oswald Avery Award from the Infectious Disease Society of America in 2009, the E. Mead Johnson Award from the Society for Pediatric Research in 2010 and the InBev Baillet-Latour Health Prize from the Baillet-Latour Foundation in Belgium in 2011.
Casanova is the second Rockefeller University faculty member to receive the Milstein Award. James E. Darnell Jr., head of the Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology, shared the prize in 1997.