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Yokoyama Receives Novartis Award for Basic Immunology

Contact:
Gila Z. Reckess
314.286.0109
reckessg@msnotes.wustl.edu

St. Louis, August 17, 2001 – Wayne M. Yokoyama, M.D., was awarded the Novartis 2001 Prize for Basic Immunology at the 11th International Congress for Immunology in Stockholm, Sweden, in recognition of his groundbreaking scientific contributions to the understanding of natural killer cells and the molecular basis for their function. Yokoyama is the Sam J. Levin and Audrey Loew Levin Professor of Research in Arthritis and a professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and chief of the rheumatology division at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The Novartis Prizes for Immunology are presented every three years and are renowned as the most prestigious awards in the field. They are awarded for outstanding achievements in the understanding of the body's immune system and major immunological discoveries that lead to therapeutic applications. Developed to recognize individual accomplishments and provide financial support for further research, the prizes have two fundamental aims: to stimulate research of unsolved, difficult problems in biology and medicine, and to further links between academic and industrial research.

Yokoyama shared the award with Klas Kärre from Stockholm, Sweden, and Lorenzo Moretta Genoa, Italy, in honor of their work on NK cells. These important components of the body's immune system fight tumors and infections. Yokoyama was specifically cited for cloning and identifying the first receptor on NK cells, a molecule called Ly49A, which functions as an inhibitory receptor to shut off NK cells. This provided an explanation for why NK cells cannot kill other cells that display its ligands, the widely expressed major histocompatibility complex class I molecules, and served as the molecular basis for the "missing-self" hypothesis which Kärre had proposed earlier. It also laid the groundwork for the identification of different classes of inhibitory receptors both in mice and humans and detailed understanding of how NK cells can be activated to kill tumor and infected cells.

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