The challenge: To find out what the natural immune response is that recognizes foreign bacteria and viruses.
The work: Toll like receptors in the body’s cells sense microbes and mobilize the immune system to fight infection and develop long-term immunity.
Why it matters: The work leads to the development of medicines and therapies for cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases and septic shock.
Shizuo Akira received his MD from Osaka University in 1977. After three years’ clinical training, he entered the Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka University, where he obtained his PhD in 1984. He spent two years (1985-87) as a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California at Berkeley. He was a research associate (1987- 1995) at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology, Osaka University in the laboratory of Dr. Tadamitsu Kishimoto, where he cloned two transcription factors, NF-IL6(C/EBPbeta) and STAT3. In 1996 Dr. Akira became a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Hyogo College of Medicine. In 1999 he was appointed as a professor of the Research Institute of Microbial Diseases, Osaka University. Since 2007, he has been a Director of WPI Immunology Frontier Research Center, Osaka University.
Dr. Akira is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has received a number of prestigious awards including the Robert Koch Prize, the William B. Coley Award, and the Keio International Medical Science Prize.