1947 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Pathogenic properties of pneumococcus bacteria

With unusual persistence, remarkable insight and extraordinary accuracy of observation, Oswald Avery has devoted the greater part of his scientific career to the study of the pneumococcus.

Animated by an unsurpassed intellectual curiosity and a desire to conquer one of the most deadly enemies of man, he undertook to elucidate in logical sequence the biological activities, the immunological characteristics and the pathogenic properties of any pneumococcus. In this he so far succeeded that today it is fair to say that more is known about this organism than about any other human parasite.

Were this all, it would be a unique accomplishment, but quite early in the course of his investigations he became interested in searching for a chemical explanation for the type specificity of pneumococci. As a consequence, he discovered and identified the capsular polysaccharides and demonstrated their role in determining this specificity.

He furthermore succeeded in throwing light on the immunological relationships of the intracellular constituents of this organism.

Through these discoveries he laid the foundation for his brilliant analysis in chemical terms of the antigenic constitution of the whole pneumococcus. He thus established a perfect pattern for the antigenic analysis of other microorganisms both by himself and by others who have followed in his footsteps.

Among Dr. Avery's many brilliant contributions to scientific knowledge, none has been more outstanding than his studies on the antigenic constitution of bacteria. Through them, he is one of the founders of the science of immunochemistry. Because of them, our comprehension of the complex problems of infectious disease has been immeasurably enriched.