Lists of Nobel Prizes and Laureates

Immune System

Nobel Prizes and the Immune System

The Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have rewarded several breakthroughs that revealed the way in which our bodies protect us against microscopic threats of almost any description. Each of these breakthroughs have provided us with a better understanding of how the immune system senses an attack, how it recognizes and deals with intruders without destroying its own cells and tissues, but also how it can malfunction and unleash its destructive forces upon itself. Click on each link to see a Speed Read, a brief summary of the breakthroughs for which each Nobel Prize was awarded.

Emil von Behring Passive Aggressive Treatment
Emil von Behring (1901)

Von Behring identified factors in blood that neutralize the toxic products from tetanus and diphtheria bacteria, and he showed how these agents could be used to prevent illness and death caused by diphtheria microbes.

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich Multiple Lines of Defence
Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich (1908)

The immune system works through more than one mechanism: Mechnikov identified phagocyte cells that engulf and devour intruders, Ehrlich's side-chain theory proposed how antibodies released in blood tackle invaders.

Charles Richet A Shock Response
Charles Richet (1913)

Richet discovered anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to toxins, which showed how the immune system can damage its host as well as provide protection against disease.

Jules Bordet Complementary Forces
Jules Bordet (1919)

Factors in blood serum work with antibodies to destroy bacteria, and Bordet's discovery of these complement proteins allowed the creation of tests that could diagnose many dangerous infectious diseases.

Karl Landsteiner Blood Relations
Karl Landsteiner (1930)

Landsteiner's discovery of human blood groups, and his system for typing blood, allowed blood transfusions to be carried out without the risk of adverse reactions.

Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar Raising Self-Awareness
Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar (1960)

The concept of immunological tolerance showed how the body learns to recognize its own cells and tissues, which prevents the immune system from mounting a response against itself.

Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter Anatomy of a Killer
Gerald Edelman and Rodney Porter (1972)

The two scientists independently deciphered the structure of antibodies, which revealed how seemingly identical-looking molecules can target specifically any one of a countless number of invaders for destruction.

Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Dausset and George Snell Seeking Signs of Compatibility
Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Dausset and George Snell (1980)

Breakthroughs from the three researchers helped to build a picture for how a specific set of proteins found on the surface of cells can regulate the immune response.

Nils Jerne, Georges Kohler and César Milstein Creating Supply on Demand
Nils Jerne, Georges Kohler and César Milstein (1984)

Jerne's theories provided a clearer image of how the immune system engages antibodies to fight invaders, Köhler and Milstein's techniques for producing specific antibodies on demand helped to create better diagnostic tests and new treatments against diseases.

Susumu Tonegawa Assembly Instructions for Antibodies
Susumu Tonegawa (1987)

By uncovering the genetic mechanism for the construction of antibodies, Tonegawa revealed how the body can generate millions and millions of antibody proteins from a much smaller number of genes.

Peter Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel Double-Checking Cells
Peter Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel (1996)

Doherty and Zinkernagel's discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells uncovered the general mechanisms used by the cellular component of the immune system to distinguish foreign agents from its own cells and tissues.


These Speed Reads are an element of the multimedia production "Immune Responses". "Immune Responses" is a part of the AstraZeneca Nobel Medicine Initiative. AstraZeneca Nobel Medicine Inititative


First published 6 September 2010
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