Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1908
Born: 15 May 1845, Kharkov, Russian Empire (now Kharkiv, Ukraine)
Died: 15 July 1916, Paris, France
Affiliation at the time of the award: Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
Prize motivation: “in recognition of their work on immunity”
Prize share: 1/2
During the second half of the 19th century, it was clear that many diseases are caused by attacks of microorganisms. It was also determined that our immune system protects us against these attacks. Ilya Mechnikov contributed in several ways to our understanding of how this happens. After studies of starfish larvae, in 1882 he pointed to phagocytosis as one of the immune system’s ways of operating. By this he meant that certain cells in the blood, white blood cells, work by encapsulating and destroying harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.