Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of the St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, has been awarded the 2014 Robert Koch Award from the Berlin, Germany based Robert Koch Foundation. Casanova shares the prize with Alain Fischer from the Collège de France and Imagine Institute and the Necker Hospital for Sick Children in Paris. They will receive the €100,000 prize at an award ceremony in November.
The Robert Koch Foundation is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the promotion of basic scientific research in the field of infectious diseases, as well as exemplary projects that address medical and hygienic issues. Robert Koch, 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. The Robert Koch Award is one of Germany’s most distinguished scientific awards.
Casanova and Fischer are being honored for their groundbreaking work on understanding host genes and their products in infectious diseases. Casanova is interested in why some children develop severe infectious diseases after coming into contact with certain pathogens, while most other children do not. He and his colleagues have discovered “holes” in the immune systems of otherwise healthy children that make them susceptible to specific, sometimes life-threatening infectious diseases. These holes are caused by congenital mutations in a single gene, and are responsible for the susceptibility to certain infections including mycobacterial diseases, herpes simplex virus encephalitis, invasive pneumococcal disease, chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis or Kaposi sarcoma.
The practical implementations of these findings include molecular diagnosis and genetic counselling for the patients and their families as well as the development of targeted therapies with recombinant cytokines aimed at restoring a deficient immune response.
Casanova has been at Rockefeller since 2008 and has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 2014. 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, the InBev Baillet-Latour Foundation in Belgium in 2011, the Ilse and Helmut Wachter Foundation Award and the Milstein Award in 2012, and the American Pediatric Society Norman J. Siegel New Member Outstanding Science Award and the Presidential Award of the Clinical Immunology Society, both in 2014.
Casanova is the second Rockefeller faculty member to receive the Koch Award since it was first presented in 1970; Ralph Steinman received the prize in 1999.