Yale Researchers Receive the Vilcek Prize

Professor Ján Vilček and Marica Vilček, founders of the Vilcek Foundation, which bestows the annual Vilcek Prize. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE VILCEK FOUNDATION.

Awarded annually by the Vilcek Foundation to an immigrant researcher who has made lasting impacts on American society, the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science will be shared this year by two Yale scientists.

Sterling Professor of Immunobiology Richard A. Flavell, originally from the United Kingdom, joined Yale to found the Department of Immunobiology, of which he is currently chair. Among other accomplishments, Professor Flavell helped develop a Lyme disease vaccine, showed that DNA possesses noncoding intron regions, and built a more accurate mouse model for studying the immune system. At Yale, his work has served to elucidate many intricate workings of the innate immune system, our first defense against pathogens.

Professor Richard A. Flavell, co-recipient of the 2013 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE.

David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology Ruslan M. Medzhitov, who was born in Uzbekistan, became interested in the innate immune system early in his career when he read Dr. Charles A. Janeway Jr.’s paper proposing its existence. After joining Janeway’s laboratory at Yale in 1994, Professor Medzhitov made several groundbreaking findings, including his discovery of Toll-like receptors that recognize foreign molecules and activate the innate immune system. This breakthrough helped launch the study of the innate immune system, until then largely unrecognized, into prominence.

Professor Ruslan M. Medzhitov, co-recipient of the 2013 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE.

Academic honors are often viewed as crowning achievements, but we can be sure that these two giants will continue making great discoveries for decades to come. “It’s a very wonderful thing to be recognized, and I certainly do appreciate it, but we have to step back and remember what we’re doing, which is trying to understand how the world works,” said Flavell.

Vilcek Prize trophies are individually designed by Stefan Sagmeister. The bottom of each trophy displays the name of the recipient. IMAGE COURTESY OF GAMIL DESIGN.