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ACTERIA Early Career Research Prize 2015 in Immunology

Dr. Dietmar Zehn

Dietmar Zehn, 38, graduated from the Charite – Medical Faculty of the “Humboldt University” in Berlin, Germany. Following a 5 year postdoctoral period in the laboratory of M.J. Bevan, University of Washington, Seattle, USA he became in 2009 an assistant professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He published first and senior author articles in Nature, Immunity, Nature Immunology, Journal of Experimental Medicine, and Nature Reviews Immunology. His postdoctoral carrier was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Later he received support from the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute (SVRI). He was awarded a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) Professorship and a European Research Council (ERC) Starting grant.

Several infections including HIV or tuberculosis show an alarmingly high prevalence. This strongly underlines the need to increase our knowledge how certain pathogens manage to submerge their elimination by the immune system. Immune protection against viral and certain bacterial infections typically requires a strong cytotoxic T-cell response but in persisting infections the number of pathogen-specific T-cells is often reduced and their function appears severely compromised. Today, there is still limited understanding of the mechanisms and regulatory circuits that mediate this attenuation of T-cell function in persisting infections. Dr. Zehn’s research activities focus therefore on identifying the requirements for inducing protective immunity and protective cytotoxic T-cell responses. He developed several innovative approaches to gain advanced insights into cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying T-cell differentiation in infections that the immune system manages to resolve and in infections that persist. These systems and bio-informatics approaches will be utilized to improve insights how pathogen protection is naturally achieved, to identify when immune protection fails, and the obtained knowledge will be used to facility the development of novel therapeutic strategies against problematic infections.

Dr Zehn pursues his project on the molecular foundation of functional and dysfunctional T cells in chronic infections and tumors  at the Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois (CHUV), Faculty of Biology and Medicine,  University of Lausanne