Eugene C. Butcher, Stanford University, USA and Timothy A. Springer, Harvard Medical School, USA recevie the USD 500,000 prize “for their studies of the molecular mechanisms involved in migration of white blood cells in health and disease”.
White-blood-cell migration explained
Inflammatory processes play a significant part in both disease and health. Their nature and severity influence healing processes in diseased tissues, but also diseases like infections, allergies, myocardial infarctions and rheumatic diseases.
The white blood cells are important actors in inflammation. They are recruited from the blood stream and attack bacteria and other microorganisms in the diseased tissue, so that the tissues may heal and continue their normal function. White blood cell deficiencies are serious and may lead to life-threatening diseases. On the other hand, excessive inflammation can itself lead to tissue damage and disease. It is therefore quite essential to understand the migration patterns of white blood cells and the molecular interactions that lead them to their target.
This year´s Crafoord Prize is being awarded to researchers who in a groundbreaking fashion have laid bare the mechanisms behind how white blood cells can leave the blood vessels and penetrate the diseased tissue.
Eugene Butcher has identified several important proteins, the selectins, which are located in the cell membrane of white blood cells. These proteins bind specifically to carbohydrate chains on the surface of blood vessels and regulate blood cell movement towards the target.
Timothy Springer has mapped a different group of adhesion molecules in the cell membrane of the blood cells, termed integrins. These consist of two classes of sub-unit which can combine in different ways to form proteins with different specific properties.The mechanisms mapped by the prize-winners are also interesting subjects for medical treatment of diseases in which the white blood cells attack tissues, such as rheumatic disease or multiple sclerosis. Well-advanced treatment trials are in progress.