The Vilcek Foundation is a New York City-based non-profit organization devoted to raising public awareness of the contributions of immigrants to the sciences, arts, and culture in the United States.
Richard A. Flavell, chair and Sterling Professor of Immunobiology, and Ruslan M. Medzhitov, the David A. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology, were honored by the foundation for their long-standing and influential work on the innate immune system, the first line of defense against infection by bacteria and viruses.
Born in the United Kingdom, Flavell received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1970 at the University of Hull and worked in both academia and industry before joining the Yale faculty in 1988 to lead its immunobiology program. A prolific scientist, Flavell and his Yale colleagues have discovered several important receptors responsible for innate immunity, and he has made major contributions to our understanding of how activation of the innate immune system triggers the adaptive system’s more specialized immune response.
Medzhitov, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, emigrated to the United States in the early 1990s having been inspired by the then-controversial theories of innate immunity championed by the late Yale immunobiologist Dr. Charles A. Janeway Jr. At the time, innate immunity was deemed unimportant and received scant scientific attention, but by 1997 Medzhitov, Janeway, and colleagues had identified a receptor of the human innate immune system that acts as a pathogen-detecting sentinel and activates adaptive immunity. In the wake of these findings, the study of innate immunity has seen explosive growth, and Medzhitov’s work continues to have significant implications for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and other illnesses.