Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology; Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; and Dermatology; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University, New Haven, USA[/caption]

Akiko Iwasaki, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology; Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; and Dermatology; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University, New Haven, USA

The ICIS Awards Committee have chosen Akiko Iwasaki, PhD as one of the two recipients of the 2019 Seymour & Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of immunology, particularly involving interferons and cytokines. Dr. Iwasaki has made major discoveries in the areas of innate anti-viral immunity and mucosal immunity that have resulted in paradigm shifts in our understanding of the immune response and vaccine design. Specifically, Dr. Iwasaki has revealed fundamental mechanisms spanning the activation, function and pathologic roles of type I interferons, from pregnancy to aging. A large body of her work is dedicated to revealing various aspects of interferons and cytokines in viral immunity and host physiology. Her work has direct relevance in several important infectious agents including herpes simplex virus (HSV), influenza virus, rhinovirus, Zika virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Akiko Iwasaki received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (Canada) in 1998, and her postdoctoral training from the National Institutes of Health (USA) (1998-2000). She joined Yale University (USA) as a faculty in 2000, and currently is an Investigator of the HHMI and Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Department of Immunobiology, of Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, and of Dermatology. Akiko Iwasaki’s research focuses on the mechanisms of immune defense against viruses at the mucosal surfaces. Her laboratory is interested in how innate recognition of viral infections lead to the generation of adaptive immunity, and how adaptive immunity mediates protection against subsequent viral challenge.

Dr. Iwasaki was the first to demonstrate that DNA viruses are recognized by Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), to produce type I interferons and cytokines. This discovery has been replicated and extended by others and is now widely regarded as an underlying mechanism by which TLR9 signals bifurcate to activate interferons vs. cytokines.

She was the first to identify the critical role of autophagy in innate immune recognition of viruses and in antigen presentation. Specifically, she showed that autophagy is required in pDCs to produce type I IFNs. Prior to this work, the role of autophagy in antiviral defense was confined to degradation of viruses. Her studies revolutionized this area of immunology, opening the doors to new ways of thinking about how cells recognize viruses and trigger the appropriate immune responses to fight them.

In a series of studies, Dr. Iwasaki and colleagues demonstrated the NLR inflammasome pathway to be the critical innate sensor responsible for generating protective immune responses against influenza viruses. Her group identified a viral gene responsible for triggering of the inflammasomes, revealed the importance of commensal bacteria in this process, and showed that the cytokine IL-1 is the initiator of adaptive immune responses.

Dr. Iwasaki’s recent work demonstrated that interferon induction depends on temperature. At the core body temperature, interferon induction is engaged maximally, whereas the lower temperature found in the nasal cavity dampens this response. These studies provided a possible explanation to the long-standing question as to why we catch the cold virus in cold weather, and have attracted extensive public attention.

Dr. Iwasaki’s research revealed that type I interferons play a detrimental role in the context of congenital exposure to Zika virus. On the other end of the spectrum, her work shows that aging significantly impairs interferon induction due to degradation of TRAF3.

Through a series of studies, Dr. Iwasaki demonstrated the critical role of CD4 T cells in antiviral immunity, both as direct antiviral effectors and as gatekeepers for CD8 T and antibody access to restricted tissues. She showed that CD4 T cells mediate migration of CD8 T cells and antibodies through the secretion of cytokine IFN-gamma. Her group has contributed to expanding the role of CD4 T cells as an orchestrator of other immune effector mechanisms.

Finally, Dr. Iwasaki made a breakthrough discovery that vaccines against local infections can be improved by establishing memory T cells at the exposure site. Her new method, Prime and Pull, which relies on recruitment of T cells through chemokines such as CXCL9 and CXCL10, has strong potential for clinical use. Dr. Iwasaki is now collaborating with several academic and industrial partners to improve the efficacy of vaccines using her new approach.

It is clear from this that Dr. Iwasaki has made a large impact in several key areas of modern immunology. Her studies are characterized by originality and high impact. Her publications are highly cited and highly regarded by her colleagues. Most importantly, her discoveries have led the way to understand the immune response to important pathogens, with major implications for basic science and medicine.

Dr. Iwasaki will accept her Milstein Award at Cytokines 2019 at the Awards Ceremony on Sunday, 20 October, 2019 at the Hofburg Congress Center in Vienna and give a talk in the Opening Session.

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