The Winners of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

Prize Winner 2017

Caetano Reis e Sousa

Winner of the 2017 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

Video portrait of Caetano Reis e Sousa

Born in 1968 in Lisbon (Portugal), Caetano Reis e Sousa moved to the UK in 1984 to finish his secondary education at Atlantic College in Wales. He went on to study Biology at Imperial College, London, and obtained a DPhil in Immunology from Oxford before moving to the National Institutes of Health, USA, as a postdoc. In 1998 he returned to the UK and set up his research group at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, later to become the London Research Institute. In 2015, the London Research Institute was subsumed into The Francis Crick Institute where Caetano Reis e Sousa is currently a Senior Group Leader. He is also Professor of Immunology in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College and holds honorary professorships at University College London and King’s College London.

Caetano Reis e Sousa was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in 2006, a fellow of The Academy of Medical Sciences in the same year and was made an Officer of the Order of Sant’Iago da Espada by his native Portugal in 2009. He is included in the list of Highly Cited Researchers (Thomson Reuters) and has previously won the BD Biosciences Prize of the European Macrophage and Dendritic Cell Society (2002), the Liliane Bettencourt for Life Sciences Award (2008) and the Award for Excellence in Basic/Translational Research from the European Society for Clinical Investigation (2011).

Dendritic cells as sensors of pathogens and tissue damage

Invasion by bacteria, fungi or viruses triggers potent immune responses that eliminate the pathogen. Caetano Reis e Sousa found that when viral and fungal pathogen invaders are taken up into cells they are detected by specific sensors that emit signals to promote immunity. He also demonstrated that actin filaments, the skeletons that are exposed when our own cells suffer damage and rupture their external membrane, can trigger similar pathways. This indicates that the immune system responds not only to pathogens but also to cell death induced by infection or cancer growth.

Many of the receptors and pathways involved in pathogen and dead cell sensing are expressed by specialised immune cells known as dendritic cells (DCs). Caetano Reis e Sousa has helped decipher how DCs integrate various sensory inputs and coordinate subsequent immune responses. He further studied how DCs develop from white blood cell progenitors present in the bone marrow and he identified human DC1, a specialised subtype of DCs that plays a critical role in anti-cancer and anti-viral immunity. Caetano Reis e Sousa’s work helps illuminate the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for immune detection of infection and cancer and opens the door for their translation into new vaccines and immunotherapies.