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Of Microbes and Men. War and Peace on the Mucosal Surfaces

Philippe Sansonetti

Introducing Philippe Sansonetti

Pierre Corvol
Traduction de Liz Libbrecht

Texte intégral

1Dear colleague,
Dear Philippe Sansonetti,

2“There will be new diseases. That is a fatality. […] How will we recognise these new diseases, how will we be able to suspect their existence”? Such were the premonitions of Charles Nicolle, laureate of the Nobel Prize for medicine (for his discovery of the typhus vector) and Professor of Medicine at the Collège de France from 1932 to 1936. We have been harshly reminded of the need not to give up in the face of infectious diseases with the appearance of Aids, the new forms of tuberculosis that are resistant to current antibiotics, the persistence of malaria in emerging countries, and bird flu.

3The Collège de France had never taught about microbiology and infectious diseases per se until the creation of this Chair which, dear Philippe, you are inaugurating today.

4You have combined training as both a hospital doctor, specialized in infectious diseases, and as a scientist. In 1981 you were appointed as a researcher at the Enterobacteriaceae Unit of the Pasteur Institute, where you are currently Head of the Molecular Microbial Pathogenesis Unit, associated with INSERM. Your research relates to infectious diseases of the digestive tract. Your target is a pathogenic bacterium with intracellular growth, Shigella, one of the bacteria responsible for bacillary dysentery, which causes the death of close to 500,000 children worldwide every year.

5Tackling Shigella first means doing everything to understand it. How does this bacterium detect the intestinal epithelium it is about to colonize? How does it penetrate the host cell? How does it neutralize the natural defences of the intestinal barrier? How does it misappropriate the receiving cell’s functioning to its own benefit? A true pioneer, you have provided us with the answers to all these questions, allowing us to understand, in general terms, how invasive bacteria can enter and replicate in the human organism. This work has therapeutic applications, namely for vaccines, and a first potential vaccine against shigellosis is under study for humans.

6Your work has been rewarded numerous times by the most illustrious prizes, which I will not go into here, as to conclude, I would like to stress your accessibility and dedication to fighting pandemics. You are involved in public health policy relating to infectious diseases and vaccinotherapy in many organizations, notably the World Health Organization.

7You currently hold a Collège de France Chair that will allow us to benefit from very important, much awaited teaching.

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