Paris, France – December 13th 2017 - Sanofi and the Institut Pasteur presented the Sanofi - Institut Pasteur Awards for the sixth year in a row.
Five internationally recognized researchers were rewarded for their work in two major fields with implications for global health: Immunology and Microbiology & Infection.
The National Junior award winners
Docteur Fabrizia Stavru – Bacteria-Cell Interaction Unit, Institut Pasteur (France). Fabrizia Stavru was rewarded for her research on host-pathogen interactions and specifically on the impact of a bacterial infection on the host cells’ mitochondria.
Docteur François Leulier – Institut de génomique fonctionnelle de Lyon, CNRS (Lyon, France), was rewarded for his research on the positive impact that some bacteria have on growth in situations of chronic undernutrition.
The International award winners
Professeur Jeffrey I. Gordon – Washington University (Saint Louis, United States), was rewarded for his contribution regarding the gut microbiota’s role in obesity and childhood malnutrition.
Professeur Antonio Lanzavecchia – Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Università della Svizzera italiana (Bellinzona, Switzerland), was rewarded for his research on the role of human monoclonal antibodies in the fight against malaria.
Professeur Michel C. Nussenzweig – The Rockefeller University (New-York, United States), was rewarded for his research on the molecular aspects of adaptive and innate immune responses and his research on HIV antibodies.
Created in 2012, the Sanofi – Institut Pasteur Awards are the result of a historical and privileged collaboration between two partners, Sanofi and the Institut Pasteur, to promote and support scientific excellence and innovation in service of global health. The overall allocation of the Prizes amounts to 400,000 euros.
The Jury is composed of esteemed members, all of them recipients of distinguished prizes, including three Nobel Prizes.
The laureates received their Awards during a ceremony on December 12th at the Institut Pasteur (Paris) in the presence of Pr. Stewart Cole, President of the Institut Pasteur, and Olivier Brandicourt, Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi, and members of the Jury.
National Junior Award
Research Director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS); Group Leader at the Institute of Functional Genomics of Lyon (France)
Bacterial Partners in the fight against undernutrition
A geneticist by training, François Leulier is passionate about interactions between animals and microorganisms. His doctoral thesis, defended in late-2003, explored the genetic basis of innate immune response, using Drosophila (a genus of flies, also known as fruit flies) as an animal model. From 2004 to 2010, he used the model Drosophila fly to study the immune response triggered by pathogenic intestinal bacteria. In 2011, he highlighted the influence of the fruit fly's intestinal microbiome on its physiology and showed how Drosophila's microbiota optimizes their growth in the case of nutritional deficiency. In 2012, with the support of the FINOVI Foundation and a fellowship from the European Research Council, he joined the Institute of Functional Genomics of Lyon (IFGL) to develop an ambitious research program to identify the molecular basis of the beneficial effects of the intestinal microbiome on animal growth.
In 2016, François Leulier made a major breakthrough by discovering that the same phenomenon exists in rodents. The fact that these mutually beneficial relationships between intestinal bacteria and their hosts are observable in mammals means that they are likely to be present in livestock, and perhaps even in humans.
The work of François Leulier and his team have shown that these bacterial partners could potentially help subjects grapple with nutritional stress and chronic undernutrition in particular. In certain conditions, these bacterial partners could promote growth in young individuals, opening the door to new, more effective treatments to foster juvenile growth, particularly in countries affected by undernutrition.
National Junior Award
Permanent post-doc researcher at the Pasteur Institute, Paris (France)
Bacterial infection: highlighting an unusual fragmentation of the mitochondrial network
Born in Italy, Fabrizia Stavru studied biochemistry before completing a doctoral dissertation in cellular and molecular biology in Germany, where she began a career in research, focusing in particular on matters related to protein transport in mammalian cells.
In 2008, she moved to France and joined the Bacterial-Cell Interactions research team at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. As she changed countries, so did the direction of her research. Fabrizia Stavru and her team now study host-pathogen infections and interactions, opening a new area of investigation—studying mitochondria during infection.
Her work focuses on the intracellular bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Fabrizia Stavru studies the role of mitochondria during a Listeria infection. One of the early effects observed in during infection with Listeria monocytogenes is the fragmentation of the mitochondrial network. Using microscopy and biochemical analysis, Stavru's work demonstrates that this fragmentation does not follow the ‘traditional’ mechanism, but an’alternative’ mechanism which does not rely on a protein that is essential in ‘traditional’ mitochondrial fragmentation. This represents a breakthrough discovery for the scientific community.
Fabrizia Stavru has several objectives in moving forward with this research—to understand the mechanism of this unusual mitochondrial fragmentation process, to evaluate how mitochondrial function affects bacterial infection, and to study the ways in which intracellular tickborne bacteria interact with mitochondria during parasitic infection.
© James Byard / Washington University
Jeffrey I. GORDON
Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in Saint Louis (Missouri, USA), founder of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology
A healthy gut microbiome: a weapon against malnutrition
The human gut is home to a universe of trillions of microorganisms (microbiota) previously known as ‘intestinal flora’ that contain hundred times more genes than our human genome. His studies have shown that the gut microbiome is one of the factors that contributes to obesity and that the microbiome could be a vital weapon in the fight against child malnutrition.
His work in low-income countries demonstrated how the gut community normally develops. This process takes place during the few years after birth but is stunted in children with undernutrition, leaving them with microbiomes that appear younger than those of healthy children. His team discovered that this ‘immaturity’ is not repaired by current treatments for undernutrition and is a cause rather than simply an effect of undernutrition.
Work done by Jeffrey Gordon’s laboratory on the relationship between nutrition and the microbiome has shown the enormous potential of these microorganisms, setting the stage for the development of new microbiome-directed therapies in the fight against malnutrition.
Director of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (Bellinzona, Switzerland), Professor of Immunology at the University of Lugano (Università della Svizzera Italiana), and Emeritus Professor at ETH Zürich (Switzerland).
New antibodies against malaria
Plasmodium falciparum, one of the world's most deadly parasites, has been plaguing the human immune system for thousands of years. To evade the immune system's defense mechanisms, it uses the so-called chameleon technique in order to perpetually alter its protein envelope. Antonio Lanzavecchia's team has recently discovered a new class of antibodies capable of targeting the different forms of the malaria parasite. Contrary to conventional antibodies, which are produced by assembling together three pieces of DNA that are present on the same chromosome, the new antibodies are produced through the insertion of a large piece of DNA derived from another chromosome. This extra piece is then integrated in the antibody and functions as a specific ligand that targets parasite-infected cells for destruction. The research team has found that these new types of antibody are produced in approximately 10% of the individuals exposed to malaria in Kenya, Mali, and Tanzania.
By highlighting the relationship between humans and pathogenic agents, Antonio Lanzavecchia's work is significantly advancing our understanding of human immune defense mechanisms and opening promising new avenues in the search for new vaccines against old and emerging pathogens.
© Mario Morgado / The Rockfeller University
Michel C. NUSSENZWEIG
Zanvil A. Cohn and Ralph M. Steinaman Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at The Rockefeller University (New York, USA), Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Maryland, USA)
An antibodies-based treatment to neutralize HIV
The pursuit of a HIV vaccine has been stymied from its inception by the virus' ability to rapidly mutate, allowing it to withstand the body's natural defenses. To mitigate this challenge, Michel Nussenzweig and his teams have developed new methods for the cloning of antibody genes from single human B cells, an approach they have applied to the HIV-1 antibody problem.
Michel Nussenzweig and his teams first isolated these antibodies from patients infected with HIV. These anti-HIV-1 antibodies differ from antibodies to nearly all other pathogens in their high rate of somatic mutation. Clinical trials on HIV-1 infected individuals conducted by Nussenzweig and his teams have shown that successive injections of cloned anti-HIV-1 antibodies can keep patients' HIV levels under control.
By cloning antibodies from exceptional high responder individuals, Nussenzweig’s experiments established a new paradigm for developing antibody therapies, opening new horizons in the search of vaccines and therapies for infectious diseases. These recent discoveries could lead to innovative approaches in the fight against malaria, Ebola, Zika, and even dengue fever.
Please click on the following link to have access to all information on the Sanofi-Institut Pasteur Awards.
Image : from left to right, Elias Zerhouni, Olivier Brandicourt, Pascale Cossart, Stewart Cole, François Leulier, Jeffrey I. Gordon, Antonio Lanzavecchia, Michel C. Nussenzweig, Fabrizia Stavru and Gary Nabel.