Neuroimmunologist Hartmut Wekerle receives the Jacob Henle Medal
Award for outstanding, medically relevant scientific achievements
Hartmut Wekerle, Hertie Senior Professor and Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, has received the most prestigious yearly award of the medical faculty of the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG): The Jacob Henle Medal. Wekerle receives the award for his life’s work in the field of neuroimmunology. At the request of Alexander Flügel, Director of the Institute of Neuroimmunology of the UMG, the research commission of the medical faculty had unanimously proposed Wekerle as recipient of the Jacob Henle Medal 2018.
The prize-giving ceremony took place on Friday, February 2, 2018. The laudatory speech was given by Alexander Flügel, Director of the Institute of Neuroimmunology at the UMG. Flügel emphasized that the connection of Prof. Wekerle to the Göttingen award is already ensured by the fact that Göttingen as a location for science is host to six Max Planck Institutes (MPIs) and that neuroimmunology at the UMG is strongly represented by clinical, diagnostic, and research facilities, which work closely together with the MPIs. Further, he affirmed Wekerle’s scientific excellence as well as his remarkable productivity, as proven by over 340 published works.
The title of Hartmut Wekerle’s lecture was “Immunological self-hatred: On the autoimmune pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis”. The topic of self-hatred is concerned with the following fundamental question: “How can tiny cells attack the brain and cause inflammation?” Multiple sclerosis (MS) mostly affects young people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, is a lifelong condition, and leads to disabilities.
The scientific work of Hartmut Wekerle has been concentrated on MS research. In Germany alone, around 120,000 people are affected by the disease, in which misguided cells direct the immune system against the person’s own nervous system. After reaching the brain and penetrating the spinal cord, the immune cells then damage nerve cells and can, depending on the point of attack, cause paralysis, or sensory or visual disturbances.
Using cutting-edge technologies, Hartmut Wekerle and his colleagues made a series of ground-breaking discoveries. For example, they discovered new points of attack of the immune cells, how immune cells penetrate nerve tissue, and that inflammatory diseases of the brain may have their origin in the intestinal area.
THE WINNER OF THE JACOB HENLE MEDAL
Prof. Dr. Drs. h.c. Hartmut Wekerle is considered to be the founder of experimental neuroimmunology in Germany. He has laid essential scientific foundations without which neuroimmunology would not have assumed its current importance in the worldwide research landscape. Wekerle could show for the first time which immune cells can trigger autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. Together with colleagues from Israel, Wekerle generated an animal model of multiple sclerosis, which is nowadays used as the standard and which has also imparted decisive momentum to the development of therapies. Wekerle’s research activities are ultimately responsible for the fact that neuroimmunology represents one of the most active fields within neurology in terms of research and therapeutic progress.
The prize also honors Wekerle’s extraordinary commitment to promoting international exchange and science in general. As a young scientist, he was one of the first who contributed to reviving German-Israeli relations by carrying out a research exchange in Israel. In his laboratory, Wekerle trained and shaped countless numbers of scientists who carry forward his enthusiasm for science and for clinical care in the field of neuroimmunology.
Hartmut Wekerle was born in 1944 in Waldshut. He studied medicine at the University of Freiburg, where he received his MD degree in 1971. Subsequently, he worked at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. From 1973, Wekerle carried out research at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg. In 1977, he habilitated at the University of Freiburg where he was appointed Professor of Immunology in 1980. In 1982, Wekerle assumed the supervision of a clinical research group for multiple sclerosis of the Max Planck Society in Würzburg. From 1988 to 2012, he was a Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried.
Hartmut Wekerle has been awarded numerous prizes for his scientific achievements, including the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the Louis D. Prize – France’s highest scientific distinction, and the Reinhart Koselleck Prize of the DFG. In June 2011, he was the first non-university professor to receive the Hertie Senior Professorship in the Neurosciences. This research professorship allowed Wekerle to continue his work after becoming emeritus in 2012.
The text is based on a umg press release from February 2, 2018