Alain Fischer: Winner of the Avery-Landsteiner Prize for Immunology 2012

The European Congress of Immunology held in Glasgow in September 2012 not only highlighted the latest advances in immunological research through its -numerous Symposia, workshops and poster sessions [1] but it also celebrated and honoured, by way of awards and prizes, those working in the field e.g. the EFIS-EJI Ita Askonas Award, which has already been reported on in this Journal [2].

Another honour bestowed during the Congress was the Avery-Landsteiner Prize, which was awarded by the German Society for Immunology to Alain Fischer, M.D., Ph.D., of Paris, France, and a
former Executive Committee member of
the European Journal of Immunology, for his milestone discoveries and treatment developments in the management of -hereditary immunodeficiencies. The prize is generously sponsored by CLS Behring to the tune of €10,000 for the winner.

As noted by Dieter Kabelitz, President of the German Society for Immunology, “The Avery-Landsteiner Prize is the most prestigious scientific award conferred by the German Society for Immunology”. Furthermore, Dieter Kabelitz, during the presentation of the award, remarked that “Dr. Fischer is in the hall of fame of a -distinguished group of Award winners within the international medical community. It is with great pride that we donate the 2012 Prize to Dr. Fischer for his -important professional contributions in the
area of genetic descriptions of immunodeficiencies. He was the first to initiate genetic therapy of a rare and serious
immunodeficiency disease, namely the γc gene defect in patients with severe -combined immunodeficiency (γc SCID). Dr. Fischer has contributed immeasurably to advancing the world's understanding of medicine.”

The Avery-Landsteiner Prize is named after two scientists who made important contributions to today's understanding of immunology: Oswald Avery, M.D., one of the world's first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry, discovered DNA as the substance of genes and chromosomes; and Karl Landsteiner, M.D., who received both The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930 and a Lasker Award in 1946, and who characterized the ABO-blood group antigen system. Karl Landsteiner is known as the ‘father of transfusion medicine.’ This Prize has been donated by CSL Behring and
its predecessors since 1973 and can be awarded every two years to an internationally outstanding and highly distinguished immunologist.

Q & A with Alain Fischer


What does this award mean to you?

It is a great honour given the list of prestigious awardees of this prize, as well as the high level of immunology in Germany; I see this award as recognition (which goes much beyond myself) of the developments in clinical immunology over the last 20 years.

Why did you choose to research immunology?

During my medical studies I met children who were highly vulnerable to infections and for whom, at that time (1970s), there was little therapy and virtually no understanding of what was going on.
I vaguely perceived that the study of their diseases could be a rewarding exercise in immunology and perhaps for the patients too.

Who has been inspirational/influential with regard to your scientific career?

Claude Griscelli who created the medical field of primary immunodeficiencies in France and, there, was the first to care about them and initiated the first studies to decipher the underlying mechanisms; he gave me the full opportunities to develop my ideas. Pierre Royer (a former Chairman of Pediatrics at Necker hospital in Paris) and Maxime Seligmann who taught me that medical progress can only rely on science. Peter Beverley and Marc Feldmann (UCL) with whom I did a postdoc in 1980–1981. It was a very exciting time, during which I essentially learned the basis of research in immunology.

What is the current focus of your work?

To further understand the (patho)physiology of genetic disorders with a focus on autoimmunity and inflammation. Here, again, we may learn a lot from rare monogenic diseases. Serenpiditous findings continue to nurture our research as performed by the different groups in the laboratory. Together with Marina Cavazzana Calvo, I am interested to see how gene therapy is going to be developed in the field of primary immunodeficiencies and also, by gene marking, how this can help us understand the dynamics of lymphocyte populations.

What, do you feel, is currently the most exciting topic in immunology? Excluding your own work of course!

I am impressed (perhaps because I am fairly ignorant in these areas) by the developments in in vivo immunology based on intravital microscopy, as well as by the first results of systems biology applied to immunology. This is how one day we may truly assess a human system at work!

Do you have any advice for students starting on their immunological career?

Be curious in looking around in what's going on outside immunology to pick up ideas and concepts that can help their research. Thus, perhaps have a solid training in a connected field (e.g. developmental biology, cell biology, mathematics . . ).

What do you think will be the big breakthroughs in immunology in the next decade?

In vivo immunology (see above) and the integration of innate immune signals and adaptive immunity

If you weren't an immunologist what would you have become?

Perhaps a historian!!