Caetano Reis e Sousa, a senior group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, has been named as a winner of the 2017 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine.
The European prize is awarded for fundamental biological research that is likely to have an impact in medicine and the treatment of disease. Many of those who have won the prize in the past have gone on to win a Nobel.
The Crick now counts eight Louis Jeantet prizewinners among its current staff or alumni of its parent institutes - more than most European countries (only the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France have seen more researchers win the award)
The award recognises Caetano's contributions to understanding how the immune system senses invading pathogens, and also detects damage to the body.
"I am delighted and honoured to be awarded the 2017 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. It stresses the importance of curiosity-driven research in developing innovative approaches to the treatment and prevention of disease. I am very grateful to all the members of my research team over the years for their dedication and hard work and to all my colleagues, friends and family for their unwavering support," says Caetano.
Caetano wins this year's award along with Silvia Arber, Professor of Neurobiology at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland. Professor Arber is rewarded for her studies of how neuronal circuits control and orchestrate movement.
Each winner will receive over £560,000 from the Louis-Jeantet Foundation: £500,000 to continue their research and £60,000 for them personally. They will be presented with their prizes at an award ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on 26 April.
Work in Caetano's laboratory is helping illuminate the biological processes responsible for how the body's immune system detects infection and cancer. The new insight and understanding may ultimately lead to new vaccines and immunotherapies.
His research team has shown that specific sensors detect when viruses and fungi invade the body and revealed how they trigger potent immune responses to eliminate the invaders. They also showed that similar biological pathways can be triggered when our cells suffer damage, allowing the immune system to respond to dying or cancerous cells.
Immune cells known as dendritic cells are critical to this immune response, and Caetano and colleagues have helped decipher how these cells make sense of initial signals and shape the subsequent response.
The team has further studied how dendritic cells develop from progenitor cells present in the bone marrow and has identified a specialised subtype of dendritic cells in humans that plays a critical role in anti-cancer and anti-viral immunity.
Caetano was born in Lisbon, Portugal and moved to the UK to finish his schooling at Atlantic College in Wales. He studied at Imperial College London and Oxford University and did postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health in the USA. He returned to the UK in 1998 to set up a research group at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which later became Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute, one of the parent institutes of the Francis Crick Institute. He is also a Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London.
Caetano has been elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was made an Officer of the Order of Sant'Iago da Espada by his native Portugal.