Tim R. Mosmann, Ph.D., Director of the David H. Smith Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was awarded the 2013 Novartis Prize for Basic Immunology. He shares the prize, which is awarded every three years for breakthrough contributions to the fields of basic and clinical immunology, with Robert L. Coffman, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Dynavax.
The prize was awarded for Mosmann and Coffman’s research on how the body responds to different invaders, for example, bacteria versus parasitic worms. In the early 1980’s, they zeroed in on a group of white blood cells called helper T cells or TH cells, which communicate with other cells to activate the immune system and wipe out intruders. They discovered that TH cells fall into two distinct groups: TH1 cells, designed to eliminate bacteria and viruses; and TH2 cells, which are more effective against extracellular organisms, like worms and other parasites.
When Tim started this research, scientists thought that helper T cells could be divided into at least two subgroups, but no one had been able to prove this, said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical Center.
Tim elegantly showed that these cells could be divided into two subsets that produced different secreted proteins (cytokines) and that had different functions – a finding that profoundly changed the way people think about the immune system.