2018 Milstein Award Winner
Luke A.J. O’Neill FRS is Professor & Chair of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Professor O'Neill is awarded the 2018 Seymour & Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon & Cytokine Research in recognition for his seminal contributions to our understanding of the molecular basis of inflammation and immunity. He is one of the key figures whose research and publications are responsible for the major increase in interest amongst immunologists in innate immunity over the past 20 years and is listed by Thompson Reuters/ Clarivates in the top 1% of immunologists in the world, based on citations per paper.
His interest in cytokines began in 1985 during his PhD at the Royal College of Surgeons in London on the recently cloned IL1. He worked on the mechanism whereby IL1 could increase production of prostaglandins, providing an early description of inducible cyclooxygenase. He continued investigating IL1 signaling as a postdoctoral scientist working with IL1 co-discoverer Jerry Saklatvala at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge where he did work on IL1 signal transduction and NFkappaB. Establishing his own lab back in Dublin he continued to study NFkappaB, providing early descriptions of NFkappaB in brain and studying its redox regulation. His interest in IL1 signaling continued and he wrote a key review describing in detail the Toll-IL1 receptor- resistance (TIR) domain as a critical domain in innate immunity. This led to the discovery of viral proteins with TIR domains which he showed were inhibitors of Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling, providing the first link between TLRs and viruses. This interest in the TIR domain led to the discovery of the protein Mal, a signaling adapter which he showed to be essential for signaling by the LPS receptor TLR4, which has more recently been shown to be critical for all TLRs (with the exception of TLR3) making it a central player in innate immunity and a key signal linking innate and adaptive immunity. O’Neill then carried out extensive characterization of signaling mechanisms for TLRs, uncovering negative regulatory mechanisms (including miRNAs) and recent important work on metabolic changes in macrophages triggered by TLR4. His metabolic work also involved the NLRP3 inflammasome, which drives production of the key cytokines IL-1 and IL-18, investigating its role in Type 2 diabetes, uncovering control mechanisms and also reporting the first potent selective inhibitor of NLRP3 which has tremendous potential as a novel anti-inflammatory agent.
His work on metabolic changes induced by TLR4 has made a pioneering contribution to the currently burgeoning field of Immunometabolism, whereby immune cells undergo metabolic reprogramming to elicit specific effector functions. O’Neill identified the metabolite succinate as a key inflammatory signal, driving IL1beta production. More recently he has uncovered a critical anti-inflammatory role for the citrate - derived metabolite itaconate, acting via Nrf2.
All of these contributions have helped to place the field of innate immunity center stage in the effort to understand host defense mechanisms and inflammation and are fundamental findings in biology of the immune system and are also important for efforts to develop new treatments of infectious and inflammatory diseases. In short, O’Neill is a world authority on signaling in inflammation and innate immunity.
In 2013 he served as co-President of the newly inaugurated International Cytokine & Interferon Society with Chuck Samuel.
Professor O'Neill is founder director of three companies exploring innate immune targeting, Opsona, Inflazome and Sitryx. He is also a member of the External Immunology Network at GSK, where he has been a visiting scientist.
He was awarded the Royal Dublin Society / Irish Times Boyle Medal for scientific excellence, the Royal Irish Academy Gold Medal for Life Sciences, The Society for Leukocyte Biology (SLB) Dolph O. Adams award and the European Federation of Immunology Societies Medal. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy, EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organisation) and a Fellow of the Royal Society.