Sterling Professor of Immunobiology, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Dr. Flavell is founding chair of the Department of Immunobiology at Yale and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After obtaining a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of Hull in 1970, he carried out postdoctoral training at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Zurich. Working with Charles Weissmann in Zurich in 1974, he modified genes in a virus and studied the resulting phenotype – the first example of what scientists now call “reverse genetics.” Subsequently, as a faculty member at the University of Amsterdam, he demonstrated the presence of introns in mammalian genes. In 1982, Dr. Flavell left academics to serve as the chief scientific officer of Biogen, but returned to academia in 1988 to join the faculty at the Yale School of Medicine.
Richard Flavell is co-discoverer of introns in cellular genes: he showed DNA methylation correlates inversely with, and prevents gene expression. He was the first to develop and employ reverse genetics as a postdoc with Weissmann and in his own lab continued in this field throughout his career; he is a pioneer in the use of this approach in vivo to study function. Dr. Flavell’s laboratory studies the molecular and cellular basis of the immune response. He has been instrumental in discovering the molecular basis of T-cell differentiation from precursor cells into differentiated subsets and provided the first example of gene regulation in trans via “kissing chromosomes”. Moreover, his laboratory has elucidated the mechanisms of immunoregulation that prevent autoimmunity and overaggressive responses to pathogens. Dr. Flavell’s laboratory has also discovered the role of several receptor families in the innate immune response, including Toll-like receptors and intracellular Nod-like receptor families (NLRs). This has recently led to the elucidation of function of Nod2 in inflammatory bowel diseases and Nalp proteins in the production of IL-1. Most recently he has established the connection between inflammasomes, microbial homeostasis and chronic diseases. He showed that dysbiosis of the microbiota leads to IBD and Metabolic Syndrome, including Obesity, Fatty Liver disease and Type 2 diabetes. Finally, Dr. Flavell’s laboratory has studied the role of TGF-β in the regulation of immune response. This work is of relevance both to the control of autoimmune disease as well as evasion of immune response by tumors.
Dr. Flavell has received the FEBS Anniversary Prize (1980), Colworth Medal (1980), Darwin Trust Prize (1995), Rabbi Shai Sachnai Memorial Prize in Immunology and Cancer Research (2008), AAI Invitrogen Meritorious Career Award (2008), Andrew Lazarovitz Award (2011), the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immuology (2012) and most recently, the 2013 Vilcek Award, shared with Dr. Ruslan Medzhitov., JDRF Star of Hope Award (2014) and an Honorary Doctorate from University of Hull. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1984, the National Academy of Sciences in 2002, the National Academy of Medicine in 2006 and the first President of the newly formed International Cytokine and Interferon Society (ICIS) from 2014-15. He is an honorary professor at Wuhan University, ChinaNan Kai University, China Soochow University, China and Adjunct Professor, Scripps Research Institute, Florida