Nobel laureates

Ten Institut Pasteur scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the first dating back to the early 20th century. The distinguished award underlines the outstanding research accomplished by our scientists and equally importantly promotes the cause cherished by Louis Pasteur: applying science for the benefit of all humanity.

  • Alphonse Laveran 1907
  • Ilya Mechnikov, Elie Metchnikoff in French 1908
  • Jules Bordet 1919
  • Charles Nicolle 1928
  • Daniel Bovet 1957
  • André Lwoff 1965
  • Jacques Monod 1965
  • François Jacob 1965
  • Françoise Barré-Sinoussi 2008
  • Luc Montagnier 2010

Alphonse Laveran

(1845-1922)

Alphonse Laveran was France’s first Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine. He discovered the parasite that causes malaria.

 

MALARIA

Alphonse Laveran pioneered parasitology at the Institut Pasteur with Félix Mesnil. Before joining the Institut Pasteur he discovered what he thought to be the malaria agent, a protozoa infecting the red blood cells of their host. This was at Constantine hospital in 1880. From 1880 to 1882 he described the protozoa in various publications. In 1889 Alphonse Laveran attended microbiology lectures at the Institut Pasteur and five years later he started work as a volunteer scientist. From 1900 to 1903 he investigated the potential connection between Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria. He traveled to Corsica and the Camargue to study the mosquitoes. Here he also examined mosquitoes he received from all over the world. He believed there might be a link between these mosquitoes and the spread of malaria. Other scientists proved the link and also showed that the parasite completes its cycle in the mosquito.

 

LEISHMANIASIS

In 1900, Laveran and Mesnil studied trypanosomes, the causative agents of various epizootics and human diseases such as sleeping sickness. Four years later they published a treatise on the subject, later completed in 1912. In 1903, the scientists showed that the causative parasite of Kala-azar, a fever widespread in India previously identified by Sir William Boog Leishman, was a new protozoa, different from the trypanosomes and hematozoa causing malaria. They first named it Piroplasma donovani after Charles Donovan who was also working on leishmaniasis. Ronald Ross created the Leishmania genus for the parasite which was later named Leishmania donovani. Alphonse Laveran’s work met with skepticism from several fellow scientists. The importance of his work was recognized, however, and in 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize "for his work on the role of protozoa in causing diseases". He left almost the entire proceeds of his prize to the Institut Pasteur for the development of premises dedicated to parasitology.

 

 

Ilya Mechnikov, Elie Metchnikoff in French

(1845-1916)

Ilya Ilitch Metchnikov discovered phagocytes and phagocytosis in 1883. He is considered the father of cell-mediated immunity as opposed to the humoral immunity observed by Paul Ehrlich. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize with Paul Ehrlich in 1908.

 

"For his work on immunity."

After discovering phagocytes and phagocytosis in 1883, Ilya Mechnikov fought long and hard to win acceptance for his theory. Following experiments and demonstrations the scientist’s discoveries were finally recognized by his peers and his determination saw him awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1908.

 

There were many opponents to Mechnikov’s theory of phagocytosis, notably from the German school. At the Berlin Congress in 1890, he won support from the French and English, notably Joseph Lister, a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Robert Koch, on the other hand, defended the bactericidal effects of serum and its frontline role in immunity (humoral theory).

 

At the London Congress in 1891, the arguments for and against the theory of phagocytosis hinged primarily on the reports of Dr Roux (phagocytic theory) and Buchner (humoral theory). The discovery of antitoxins by Behring lent substantial support to proponents of the humoral theory.

 

At the Budapest Congress in 1894, the debates resumed around Pfeiffer’s experiment proving the extracellular destruction of the cholera vibrio. Mechnikov responded with a series of new experiments. Dr Roux sent a letter to Louis Pasteur: "I wrote this message immediately after leaving the congress. Mechnikov in a reply full of passion and focus on truth has allowed the theory of phagocytes to triumph. I think he has put the belief in many minds."

 

We now know that the two theories are linked. And humoral immunity also begins with cells. It is also to Mechnikov that we owe the distinction between macrophages and microphages.

 

In recognition of his pioneering work on immunity Mechnikov was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1908. Widely considered as the father of cell-mediated immunity, he was awarded the prize jointly with Paul Ehrlich. Both men are considered the founders of immunology.

 

Read Ilya Metchnikov’s full biography.

Jules Bordet

1870-1961

In 1919 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on the role of antibodies and the complement system. Jules Bordet’s discoveries expanded early 20th century knowledge of immunology considerably.

 

"For his discoveries relating to immunity."

In 1894 Jules Bordet joined the laboratory of Ilya Mechnikov under a grant from the Belgian government. He worked there until 1901.

 

From 1895 to 1896 he investigated the mechanisms of bacterial agglutination and destruction (bacteriolysis) by immune serum and thus underlined the role of humoral immunity in antimicrobial defense processes. He showed that bacteriolysis results from the combined action of two factors in blood serum: complement, a non-specific heat-labile factor initially called "alexin", and a specific heat-stable or sensitizing factor (the "antibodies") so called because it sensitizes the microbe to the bacteriolytic action of the alexin. He also showed that agglutination preceding lysis is due to the antibody and does not involve the complement. As early as 1895 he therefore clarified the bacterial destruction mechanism in vaccinated individuals.

 

Thanks to this discovery, during the same year he established the principle of in vitro serodiagnostic methods - i.e. diagnosing patients using a serum assay. This principle was subsequently used to diagnose the majority of infectious diseases.

 

In 1898, he expanded our knowledge of immunology further by showing that an organism can become immune not only to microbes, but also to cells from foreign animal species via the same mechanism. Like anti-infectious immunity, the immunity thus acquired is specific, meaning that it can distinguish between the cells of the various animal species. It was thus established that the diversity of animal species is reflected in the diversity of their cellular structure. This fundamental concept may be considered to be behind the discovery of blood groups and the phenomenon of graft rejection later on. In 1900 he described the complement-fixation reaction. In 1906 this led to the widely used serum diagnosis test for syphilis developed by Wassermann, hence the name Bordet-Wassermann reaction. Jules Bordet was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1919.

 

Read Jules Bordet’s full biography

Charles Nicolle

1866-1936

In 1928 Charles Nicolle won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on typhus. He notably discovered the role of lice in transmission of the infection in humans.

A personal account by Charles Nicolle

"Like everyone who had been coming to the Muslim hospital in Tunis over the years, every day I saw typhus sufferers lying alongside patients with a whole host of health complaints in the wards. Like those before me, daily I witnessed unconcerned the fact that there was never any contamination from such close contact, a strange situation indeed and one that should not have existed given the highly contagious nature of the disease. The fellow ward patients of typhus sufferers simply did not contract the disease. Yet, during outbreaks the contagion was widespread in customs offices and neighborhoods, and even among hospital staff admitting new patients.

 

Doctors and nurses were becoming contaminated in the countryside and in Tunis itself, but not in the hospital wards. One morning, on a day like any other, doubtless pondering on the enigma of typhus’ method of contagion but not consciously so (of that I am certain), I was about to enter the hospital when a human body, lying at the foot of the steps, stopped me in my tracks. It was commonplace to see the indigent poor, typhus sufferers delirious with fever, arriving within an inch of the hospital in their demented gait and falling exhausted at the very last steps. As was customary I stepped over the body. And it was at that precise instant that the realization dawned on me.

 

When I entered the hospital a few moments later I held the solution in my hands. I knew without a doubt that this had to be the answer. The body and the door in front of which it was lying had shown me the point where the typhus had stopped. In order for the typhus to stop, for the contagion that was spreading throughout the country and Tunis itself to become harmless once past the admission point, the agent of contagion must not cross this threshold. But what happened at this threshold? The patient was stripped of his clothes, shaved and washed.

 

So it was something foreign to him, that he was wearing, in his underclothes, on his skin, that was causing the contagion. It could only be lice. What I was ignorant of the day before, what nobody who had observed typhus since the beginning of time - as it goes back to ancient times - had noticed, the unquestionable, immediately obvious solution as to the transmission method, had just been revealed to me."

 

Read Charles Nicolle’s full biography.

Daniel Bovet

(1907-1992)

In 1957, Swiss-born Daniel Bovet won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries relating to synthetic compounds and their effects on blood vessels and skeletal muscles. Daniel Bovet discovered the first antihistamine and the first synthetic curare-like agents. He pioneered medicinal chemistry.

 

"For his discoveries relating to synthetic compounds for the blocking of the effects of certain substances occurring in the body, especially in its blood vessels and skeletal muscles".

 

Daniel Bovet co-discovered the anti-infectious action of sulfonamides and pioneered neuroscience at the Institut Pasteur, working alongside his wife, Filomena Nitti, the sister of another Institut Pasteur scientist, Federico Nitti. One of his major contributions was the discovery of antihistamines and synthetic curare-like agents. He worked with Ernest Fourneau in the medicinal chemistry department from the 1930s to the post-war years.

 

Extract from an interview with Prof. Changeux, former director of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Institut Pasteur.

 

" Daniel Bovet pioneered the identification of chemical substances capable of acting on receptors and competing with endogenous substances such as neurotransmitters. But obviously at the time he was neither aware of what a receptor was nor that pharmacological agents could bind to sites other than the active site or the biological activity site, known as allosteric sites. Nowadays this is a highly active field of molecular pharmacology. "

 

Daniel Bovet discovered the first synthetic adrenergic blocking agent in 1933, the first synthetic antihistamine in 1937 and the first synthetic curare-like agent in 1946.

 

"In 1946, Bovet, Depierre and Courvoisier introduced gallamine (or flaxedil) in clinical practice. This has since been used by generations of anesthetists and surgeons as a muscle relaxant. (…) In 1950, Daniel Bovet joined forces with Feldberg, then Nachmanson (in 1953) in the battle against certain electrophysiologists, in favor of chemical neurotransmission in the central nervous system. In this experimental work he mentioned " special adrenaline, acetylcholine and histamine receptors in the body that could be specific proteins with a configuration complementary to those of the transmitter itself ". Fifty years ahead of time, Daniel Bovet anticipated the involvement of pharmacological receptors - and the nicotine receptor in particular - in controlling states of consciousness."

 

Read Daniel Bovet’s full biography.

André Lwoff

1902-1994

The scientific work of André Lwoff was dominated by two major discoveries: bacterial growth factors and dormant forms of bacterial viruses called prophages. With François Jacob and Jacques Monod he was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine "for their discovery relating to the genetic regulation of enzyme and virus synthesis."

 

THE UNIQUENESS OF LIVING BEINGS

During the 1930s, André Lwoff worked in top-ranking foreign laboratories including in Heidelberg, Germany. With his wife and close colleague Marguerite, he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to work with Otto Meyerhof, 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Here André Lwoff showed how different growth factors could stimulate bacterial metabolism.

 

He was the first to discover that small molecules, coenzymes, can function as vitamins essential for cell growth. Some microorganisms such as colibacillus synthesize them, whereas for others external sources are necessary. André Lwoff thus defined the status and role of growth factors. Subsequent biochemical analysis gave rise to the concept of uniqueness of structure and functioning in the living world. His work was recognized as fundamental by the international scientific community

 

VIRULENT OR SILENT BACTERIOPHAGES

Following in the footsteps of Eugene and Elisabeth Wollman, André Lwoff's research focused on lysogenic bacteria. These bacteria multiply indefinitely perpetuating the genome of a bacteriophage (specific bacterial virus) incorporated into their own genome.

 

Various factors upset this balance and the bacteriophage develops resulting in bacterial death (lysis) and the release of infectious bacteriophages.

 

This process can be triggered at will in the entire lysogenic bacteria population under the influence of certain factors such as ultraviolet radiation. André Lwoff gave the name "prophage" to the form in which the genome of the bacteriophage is perpetuated in lysogenic bacteria. The bacteriophages produced by these bacteria, known as temperate bacteriophages, can therefore follow one of two pathways when they infect sensitive bacteria.

  • Either, like virulent bacteriophages, they multiply in the bacteria which lyse releasing infectious bacteriophages.
  • Or their genome is incorporated into the bacteria that they perpetuate in non-infectious form, the prophage.

 

Extract of André Lwoff’s Nobel Prize speech

December 10, 1965

 

"It is research that has led me here and research, we all know, is a game… And as research is a game, in theory at least it matters little whether we win or lose. But scholars have one thing in common with children. They like to win and they also like to be rewarded…

When a baby is baptized we don’t ask its opinion. What is the point? When the Foundation awards its prize it does so without the recipient’s prior agreement. It is assumed that they will accept it. It may happen that the award is declined due to pressure from others or perhaps personal pressure.

 

But why refuse the sacrament when refusal is sure to be refused? If I mentioned the word sacrament, this is because scientific research is a religion that requires faith, rational faith. Like any religion, it requires prophets, a council of apostles, and the soul and heart of an entire people.

 

It also requires martyrs… The victim derives obvious pleasure from the ceremony and there are a lot of candidates for martyrdom, as all scholars yearn for recognition deep down. However, the fame bestowed on the laureate with a distinction so rare, so coveted, and so dazzling, somewhat randomly sets them apart from their peers, forces them to consider and judge themselves. It also forces them to consider prizes in general, the generosity of fate, the charms and disadvantages of fame…

 

And now all of a sudden an event beyond my control takes a place in my life that it would be vain to deny the importance of and which, further, is a happy event. Happy for my country, for the institution to which I belong, and for the discipline I work in. Happy also for my family and friends and last of all doubtless for myself…"

 

© The Nobel Foundation 1965

 

Read André Lwoff’s full biography.

 

View the 50 years of modern molecular biology press kit

Jacques Monod

(1910-1976)

For Jacques Monod molecular biology was a way to piece together the puzzle explaining the mechanisms shared throughout the living world, from bacteria to complex animals. Inspired by André Lwoff, Jacques Monod worked closely with François Jacob to discover the first genetic regulation system, for which they coined the name operon. Four years after publication of the discovery the three scientists were awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

 

At 16 years old Jacques Monod left Cannes to enroll in the College of Sciences in Paris. After graduating, he joined the laboratory of zoologist Edouard Chatton. His thesis was interrupted twice, once for an expedition to Greenland in 1934 alongside Paul-Emile Victor, and then two years later for an internship at the California Institute of Technology. When war broke out he joined the resistance, then in 1945 joined André Lwoff’s laboratory at the Institut Pasteur. In 1954 he became Head of Cellular Biochemistry and in 1971 was appointed President of the Institut Pasteur.

 

Very early on Jacques Monod became interested in bacterial growth, working in close partnership with François Jacob. The two scientists complemented each other exceptionally well. Later Monod worked with François Gros on messenger RNA, intermediate molecules between DNA and proteins, and on the regulatory mechanisms of enzymes.

 

Extract of Jacques Monod’s Nobel Prize speech

December 10, 1965

 

"… The Nobel Foundation has rendered inestimable services by reminding and sometimes revealing to the people of our time the richest and profoundest concepts of their civilization.

 

This is the essence of the incomparable prestige of your award whose meaning and importance far exceed the very person of the laureate on whom the award is bestowed.

 

But although I see in my presence among you all here today, far less the sign of a personal distinction than a tribute to the ideas, ethics and esthetics of the discipline I have sought to serve, I am no less moved and deeply grateful to those who believed me worthy to attend this celebration. May I thank you for granting myself and my loved ones the joy of attending this wonderful ceremony, that in its splendor is well worthy of the extraordinary values it celebrates…"

 

© The Nobel Foundation 1965

 

Read Jacques Monod’s full biography.

 

View the 50 years of modern molecular biology press kit

François Jacob

(1920-2013)

François Jacob worked closely with Jacques Monod, developing the concept of genetic regulation considered revolutionary for the time. The two men were awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine with André Lwoff "for their discovery relating to the genetic regulation of enzyme and virus synthesis."

 

François Jacob is not only a scientist at heart, but also a firm believer in the progress of science and a committed, passionate, and profound humanist.

 

François Jacob’s original vocation was surgery and he began his medical studies in Paris, which were soon interrupted by the war. He then left France in June of 1940 and joined the Free French Forces in London, serving in the French Army Health Service in military operations nearest the combat zones and sustaining wounds in Normandy in 1944.

 

After the war he finished medical school but his injury forced him to give up surgery. In 1950, he turned to biology and joined André Lwoff's laboratory at the Institut Pasteur. In 1960, he was appointed Head of Cellular Genetics. He first worked with Elie Wollmann on transfer mechanisms for genetic material between bacteria and the silencing mechanisms of prophages within bacteria. François Jacob then recognized the parallel between this work and the lactose system that Jacques Monod was working on.

 

Beyond the discovery of the gene regulation systems in bacteria, he established, with Jacques Monod, further foundational notions of contemporary molecular biology, notably that of the existence of messenger RNA and the allosteric regulation of proteins. François Jacob was a member of the Académie française, recipient of the Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur, and has been Chancelier de l’ordre de la Libération (2007-2013).

 

"… Every one of us dreamed of changing the world at twenty. Every one of us knows that s(h)e won’t do it at the age of forty. At best and with a little luck we can hope to contribute in some way to the stock of truths, recipes and ideas that human beings have been slowly but surely accumulating over time. In my view, that is the meaning that Alfred Nobel wished to give the prizes he created. Yet a scientist is plagued with contradictions that lie at the very source of all research."

 

The spotlight under which your decision places him and his work can only embarrass, delight and yet frighten him all at once.

 

Embarrass him because he measures the extent to which such a distinction exceeds his personal merits and reaches out to all science and those that contribute to its progress.

 

Delight him because, despite his modesty, he feels the need to be recognized and for his work to receive the most solemn of distinctions. Frighten him too because the official character of this recognition is out of step with the doubt and the worry needed for the task that he aims to continue. " We never seek things, said Pascal, but for the search of things… "

 

"Through their objective critique and independent spirit the Nobel Committees have succeeded in bestowing on the prizes they award a unique sense of prestige. And if on one day a year fundamental science is seen to emerge from its cocoon of obscurity, if its role in our evolution and our culture is accepted by all today, and if the powers that be grant research their support each day, it is largely thanks to the way in which you have interpreted and fulfilled the wish of Alfred Nobel…"

Extract of François Jacob’s Nobel Prize speech

December 10, 1965

 

© The Nobel Foundation 1965

 

View the 50 years of modern molecular biology press kit

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

Born in 1947

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008

 

Twenty-five years after isolating the AIDS virus, this prize, jointly received with Luc Montagnier "for the discovery of human immunodeficiency virus" in 1983 at the Institut Pasteur" recognizes, beyond the work of the scientists, the tireless engagement of a whole community in the fight against HIV.

 

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, PhD, is Emeritus Professor at the Institut Pasteur and Emeritus Director of Research at the Inserm. She heads the Regulation of Retroviral Infection Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris

 

She has been involved in retrovirology research since the early 1970’s. She is recognized for her major  contributions to HIV/AIDS research, in particular as the first author of the publication that reported in 1983 the discovery of the cause of AIDS, a retrovirus, later named HIV.

 

In 1988, she became responsible for her own laboratory at the Institut Pasteur and initiated research programs on viral and host determinants of HIV/AIDS pathogenesis. She has also been implicated in collaborative programs on HIV vaccine research. Today, the research programs of her team are focused on mechanisms required to protect against HIV/SIV infections or controlling AIDS, in particular at the level of innate immunity.

 

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi has been strongly implicated in promoting integration between research, training and actions in resource limited countries, in particular through the Institut Pasteur International Network and the coordination of the ANRS research programs in Cambodia and Vietnam.

 

In February 2009 she was elected member of the French Academy of Science. She is since July 2012 the President of the International AIDS Society (IAS). In 2013 she was nominated Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

 

Through her career, she received more than 10 national or international awards, including the Nobel Prize for Medicine. She was also awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of a number of universities. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is author and co-author of 270 original publications, of more than 120 articles in book reviews and 250 communications in international congresses.

 

View file on Research on HIV/AIDS at the Institut Pasteur.

Luc Montagnier

Born in 1932

Luc Montagnier is Emeritus Professor at the Institut Pasteur, where he was director of the Viral Oncology Unit from 1972 to 2000. He is also Emeritus Director of Research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and member of the French Academies of Sciences and Medicine.

 

Prof. Montagnier is President of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, which he founded in 1983 together with Federico Mayor, former General Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

 

Luc Montagnier contributed to the creation of many biotech companies in the United States and in France.

 

He has been awarded the CNRS Silver Medal, the Rosen Prize of Cancerology (1971), the Lasker Award (1986), the Gairdner Award (1987), the Gallien Prize (1985), the Jeantet Prize, the Prize of Japan (1988) and the King Faisal International Prize (1993), the Amsterdam Foundation Prize (1994), the Warren Alpert Prize (1998), the Prince of Asturias Prize (2000) and the introduction to the National Invention Hall of Fame (2004). He is also Grand Officer in the Order of the Légion d’Honneur and Commander in the National Order of Merit (1986).

Updated on 11/02/2014

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