International award honors discoveries in cellular and molecular immunology

March 20, 2006

Tadatsugu Taniguchi, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Immunology, Graduate School of Medicine and Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Japan, is the recipient of the 10th annual Pezcoller Foundation-American Association for Cancer Research International Award for Cancer Research, for his pioneering work in elucidating the complex genetic structure of the immune system, which has had a profound impact on cancer research and molecular immunology.

The annual award, established in 1997, recognizes an individual who has made a major scientific discovery in basic or translational cancer research.

Taniguchi will give an award lecture at the 97th AACR Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., April 1-5, 2006. His talk, titled "Cytokines and IRFs in the Regulation of Oncogenesis and Immunity," is scheduled for noon, on Sunday, April 2, in Hall D of the Washington Convention Center. In honor of Taniguchi, the Pezcoller Foundation will hold an award ceremony later in the spring, at its location in Trento, Italy.

Taniguchi will receive a cash prize of €75,000 and a medallion.

"Dr. Taniguchi is truly a pioneer in cancer research at the molecular level," said AACR chief executive officer Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.). "By unraveling the complex mechanisms by which the human body defends itself against disease, he broadened exponentially our understanding of cancer and our capacity to treat cancer successfully.

"Among his many contributions to cancer research," Foti added, "Dr. Taniguchi discovered interferon regulatory factors, a family of transcription factors that are involved in programmed cell death and tumor suppression, and have important implications for cancer therapy."

"It is a great honor to receive this recognition from my peers and colleagues," Taniguchi said. "All of us who do research and teach are enriched by our collaborations. I have been particularly privileged to work in the United States and Europe, and to be part of a global scientific community. I hope we will continue to gain new insights into immune defense mechanisms, and I look forward to the day when our global and interdisciplinary efforts make the deadliest and most debilitating diseases a distant memory."

Taniguchi began the study of cytokines--proteins that regulate the intensity and duration of immune response and mediate cell communication--at The Cancer Institute of Japanese Foundation of Cancer Research, after his return to Tokyo from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree under the tutelage of

Charles Weissmann. There, in the late 1970s, he identified the human interferon-beta gene, making it possible to elucidate for the first time the complete primary structure of a cytokine: At the same time, the structure of interferon-alpha was elucidated by his mentor in Zurich, and together they went on to demonstrate that interferon-alpha and interferon-beta constitute a gene family.

"In retrospect, this turned out to be the first of the numerous cytokine gene families to be identified, and I am so grateful to Charles, whom I consider as my father in science, for his continuous support," said Taniguchi. "We also identified and characterized a human interleukin gene, the IL-2 gene."

Interferons and interleukins both are produced naturally in the body and can improve the body's natural response to infection and disease.

Interferons interfere with the division of cancer cells and can slow tumor growth; interleukin-2, discovered by Robert Gallo and colleagues, stimulates the growth of disease fighting white blood cells in the immune system.

The identification of these cytokine genes have made it possible to create interferons and IL-2 in the laboratory, making recombinant cytokines available for use in clinical applications involving cancer, hepatitis and multiple sclerosis, as well as for studies of the mechanisms of molecular signaling. Taniguchi then discovered a novel family of transcription factors, the IRF family, and elucidated the critical functions of these factors in immunity and oncogenesis.

Prior to joining the medical faculty at the University of Tokyo in 1995, Taniguchi was a professor at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology at Osaka University, and held positions of escalating importance with the Cancer Institute of the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in Tokyo. He was a visiting associate professor and now an adjunct professor at New York University Medical Center. Early in his research career, he was also trained by Massimo Libonati in the Laboratory of Biological Chemistry at the University of Naples, Italy.

Taniguchi has published more than 200 papers and is the recipient of many major honors, including the Hammer Prize, Behring-Kitasato Prize, the Robert Koch Prize and Lifetime Membership Award of the International Cytokine Society. He is a Foreign Associate Member in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. An active member of the AACR since 1991, Taniguchi serves as co-chairperson of the AACR International Affairs Committee and is Associate Editor of Cancer Research.
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A series of awards is given annually by the AACR--the world's oldest and largest professional society representing cancer scientists from the United States and more than 60 other countries--to recognize world-class accomplishments in basic and translational research, clinical care, therapeutics and prevention.

Editors Note: A photograph of Tadatsugu Taniguchi can be obtained by e-mailing decicco@aacr.org.

The Pezcoller Foundation was established in 1982 by Professor Alessio Pezcoller, a dedicated Italian surgeon who made important contributions to medicine during his career and who, through his foresight, vision, and generous gift in support of the formation of the Foundation, stimulated others to make significant advances in cancer research. The Foundation sponsors a series of symposia and publishes a journal. In the past, the Pezcoller Foundation gave a biennial award for contributions to cancer and cancer-related biomedical science in collaboration with the European School of Oncology. The Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award, which has been given annually since 1997, builds upon that tradition.

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 24,000 basic, translational, and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 60 other countries. AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts over 16,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment, and patient care. AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Its most recent publication, CR, is a magazine for cancer survivors, patient advocates, their families, physicians, and scientists. It provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship, and advocacy.

American Association for Cancer Research

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