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Prize Awarded To Immune System Researchers

April 24, 2009

Three immune system researchers were awarded the nation’s richest prize in medicine and biomedical research on Friday for their work that led to new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Ralph Steinman of Rockefeller University, Dr. Charles Dinarello, of the University of Colorado, and Dr. Bruce Beutler, of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. will share the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize the largest medicine or science award in the United States.

Established in 2000 and ranking second only to the $1.4 million Nobel Prize, the Albany prize was started with a $50 million gift from the late Morris “Marty” Silverman, a New York City businessman who wanted to encourage health and biomedical research.

Steinman started his immunity research in 1973 after discovering a white blood cell he named the dendritic cell.

Dendritic cells act as an emergency call for the body by alerting other white blood cells to multiply and prepare a defense.

Research toward potential vaccine improvements and the treatment of autoimmune disorders and cancer has benefited greatly over the years from Steinman’s discovery of dendritic cells and their role in immunity.

Steinman said it is very important to understand how your body resists infection.

Dinarello pioneered several therapies to block the immune system’s inflammatory reaction when it’s harmful””identifying the molecule, later called Interleukin-1, in the body that produces a fever, or inflammation.

Since the discovery he has focused his work on blocking the molecule to relieve inflammation. His discoveries of different Interleukins have resulted in treatment for immune disorders, including Crohn’s disease, diabetes, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis.

Tumor Necrosis Factor, or TNF, is another type of protein the dendritic cells produce for immune systems that was discovered by Beutler.

Beutler isolated TNF and explained that it also played a role in responding to inflammation.

He also created a medication [brand name Enbrel] that blocks TNF when it goes into overdrive. So far, Enbrel has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and other autoimmune disorders.

However, he cites his proudest moment as the discovery of the key proteins that the immune system uses to “see” viruses. These “toll like receptors” (TLR) spark the body’s response to an infection by acting like the eyes of our immune system.

Beutler said the moment when he realized he had found TLRs, he knew it was a major discovery. “It was the most exciting moment of my life.”

“It made me hyperventilate and I could barely talk and tell my colleagues,” he said.

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