The work: To stay healthy our immune system needs to discriminate between itself and invaders (non-self). When unable to differentiate between the two, the immune system destroys healthy cells or tissues causing autoimmune diseases. Dr. Sakaguchi discovered regulatory T (Treg) cells which help maintain order in the immune system and act as a ‘self-check’ to prevent excessive reactions as without Treg cells the body would attack the healthy cells and die. He was the first to determine their molecular basis and function.
The impact: Within his laboratory, Dr. Sakaguchi demonstrated that increasing the number of Treg cells can prevent and treat autoimmune diseases. Further, Treg cells suppress the immune system against cancer and there are now several clinical trials within this area.
Shimon Sakaguchi is a Distinguished Professor at the World Premier International Research Initiative (WPI)-Immunology Frontier Research Center (IFReC) at Osaka University, Japan. He is an immunologist recognized for his work on the control of immune responses. He is known particularly for his discovery of regulatory T cells, an indispensable constituent of the immune system for the maintenance of immune self-tolerance and homeostasis. Sakaguchi was born in Japan in 1951, obtained an M.D. in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1982 from Kyoto University, Japan, where he was trained as a pathologist and immunologist. After performing postdoctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University as a Lucille P. Markey Scholar, he served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology at the Scripps Research Institute. He returned to Japan in 1991 and continued his immunology research at RIKEN Institute as an Investigator of the Japan Science and Technology Agency and subsequently as the Head of the Department of Immunopathology at Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, Tokyo. From 1998 to2011, he was a Professor and the Chairman of the Department of Experimental Pathology, Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences Kyoto University and served as the Director of the Institute for several years. In 2011, his lab moved to Osaka University and he assumed the current position as University Distinguished Professor of Osaka University.