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Harvard Immunologist Klaus Rajewsky Receives Max Delbrück Medal

The German immunologist Professor Klaus Rajewsky from Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, has received the Max Delbrück Medal in Berlin, Germany.

The jury from various Berlin-based research institutions* honored him for his work on the development and function of B cells, the antibody factories of the body. He developed a technique to delete genes in mice in specific tissue and under specific conditions, which enabled him to explore the role of B cells within the immune system. Professor Rajewsky was also honored for his research on the development of lymphomas, especially Hodgkin's lymphoma.

B cells are important elements of the immune system. In the course of an infection they produce antibodies that systematically fight bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.

The technique Professor Rajewsky and his student Hua Gu developed in the nineties in collaboration with Jamey Marth in Vancouver is called "conditional gene targeting". With this technique he was able to study the development of B cells, thus making it possible to use genetic tools to investigate the immune system on a new level.

In his laudatory address, Professor Walter Rosenthal, scientific director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, said: "Klaus Rajewsky has contributed significantly to scientists' understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the immune system and to the development of genetically engineered mouse models to investigate human diseases and to devise new treatment strategies."

Today, Professor Rajewsky uses this technique in Boston especially to study the pathogenesis of malignant lymphomas, tumors of the lymphatic system. Using a different method, at the end of the nineties in his laboratory in Cologne, Germany, he together with his collaborator Ralf Küppers and the pathologist Martin-Leo Hansmann succeeded in identifying B cells as the cells of origin of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The second focus of Professor Rajewsky's research is on microRNAs and their impact on the development and function of B cells. MicroRNAs are small, highly diversified molecules made of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that are involved in the regulation of almost all life processes.

In his research on microRNAs as well as Hodgkin's lymphoma, Professor Rajewsky closely collaborates across the Atlantic with researchers at the MDC and the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

The annual presentation of the Max Delbrück Medal takes place in conjunction with a lecture given by the award recipient - the Berlin Lecture on Molecular Medicine. Professor Rajewsky spoke about "Mouse Genetics and Mouse Models of Disease on this and the Other Side of the Atlantic".

Klaus Rajewsky was born on November 12, 1936 in Frankfurt/Main. He studied medicine and chemistry in Frankfurt and Munich. After completing his PhD, he went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris as a postdoc.

In 1964 he joined the Institute of Genetics at the University of Cologne, and in 1966 he became head of the newly founded Department of Immunology at this institute.

As a Senior Fellow of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) he worked with Avrion Mitchison in London in 1969 and shortly after became Professor of Molecular Genetics in Cologne.

After almost 40 years in research, Professor Rajewsky was due for retirement in 2001. Instead, however, he chose to go to Harvard Medical School to Boston, USA, where the 73-year-old scientist still successfully works in research.

Professor Klaus Rajewsky has received many scientific awards. Among them are the Ernst Schering Prize and the Emil von Behring Prize (both in 2008), the Novartis Prize for Basic Immunology (2007), the Brupbacher Prize for Cancer Research (2005), the Körber Prize for European Science (1997), Max Planck Research Award and the Robert Koch Prize (both in 1996), the Rabbi Shai Shacknai Memorial Prize, Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1995), the Behring-Kitasato Prize and the Humboldt Research Award (both in 1994) and the Avery Landsteiner Award (1997).

He is a member of many scientific academies in Germany and abroad including the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, the Russian and the Ukrainian Academies of Sciences and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Awarded annually since 1992, the Max Delbrück Medal is presented to outstanding scientists on the occasion of the "Berlin Lecture on Molecular Medicine", which the MDC organizes together with other Berlin research institutions and Bayer Schering Pharma. The first award recipient was Professor Günter Blobel, who later received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

* Bayer Schering Pharma, Charite - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), Freie Universität Berlin (FU), Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP), Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, German Rheumatism Research Center, Berlin (DRFZ)

Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33

Barbara Bachtler | idw
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