Immune pioneers share Nobel prize for medicine

Dendritic cell Ralph Steinman was awarded for his discovery of the dendritic cell

Related Stories

Three scientists who "revolutionised" understanding of how the body fights infection have shared this year's Nobel prize for medicine.

Bruce Beutler, of the US, Jules Hoffmann from France and Ralph Steinman from Canada all shared the prize.

Profs Beutler and Hoffman discovered how the body's first line of defence was activated.

Prof Steinman discovered the dendritic cell, which helps defeat infection.

Twin defences

The immune system can be broadly divided into two parts: innate and adaptive.

The innate immune system is the immediate response and halts infection by destroying foreign microorganisms and triggering inflammation.

In 1996, Prof Hoffmann discovered that a gene called "Toll" was essential for kick starting the innate system in fruit flies. Without the gene, the flies could not "sense" and then fight bacterial infection.

An equivalent gene, Toll-like receptor, was found by Prof Beutler in 1998 in his study on mice.

More than a dozen Toll-like receptors have since been found in humans.

The adaptive immune system takes longer to activate, but clears the infection and can provide long lasting protection.

Prof Steinman discovered, in 1973, the dendritic cell. He showed that it can act as a bridge between the two immune systems, deciding whether to activate the adaptive system.

The Nobel prize committe said: "Together Bruce Beutler, Jules Hoffmann and Ralph Steinman have revoluntionised understanding of the immune system by discovering key principles for its activation.

"They have opened up new avenues for prevention and therapy."

Professor of clinical allergy research and panel member, Annika Scheynius, said: "We are definitely sure that these discoveries will lead to health improvement, mainly in the terms of new vaccines.

"Different types of vaccines that are targetting the dentritic cells, meaning that we can improve the health of patients with cancer, inflammatory diseases, auto-immune diseases, asthma."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Health stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Martin Gardner as a young manThink hard

    Was this man the world's greatest puzzle master?


  • Carved pumpkinTrick or treat

    What did a riot at a pumpkin festival show about race in US?


  • A woman puts on a surgical mask during hospital Ebola training in Alabama.'Dark continent'

    Is prejudice fuelling Ebola outbreak hysteria in the US?


  • Oscar de la Renta and Oprah WinfreyIn pictures

    The life and work of Oscar de la Renta


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • FutureThe future is now

    Get the latest updates and biggest ideas from BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit

Programmes

  • Smart glassesClick Watch

    Smart spectacles go into battle – the prototypes looking to take on Google Glass

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.