The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine 1990 has been awarded to Johannes J. van Rood for his efforts in medical research and more especially for his pioneering work in the field of immunohematology.
Professor Van Rood's work is characterised by the unique way in which he combines scientific medical research of a very high order with its practical application in health care.
In the field of immunohematology, the discovery and description of the HLA system has been especially significant in the development of transplant medicine. After the discovery of the first, genetically-determined HLA antigen, Van Rood discovered that antibodies against white blood cell antigens could be induced not only by blood transfusions but also during pregnancy. Because of the close relationship between mother and child, the number of different antibodies induced is much smaller and hence more accessible for research purposes than in the case of blood transfusions. This made it possible to carry out a systematic computerised analysis of the specificity of antibodies in relation to tissue antigens determined by the HLA system. This enabled Professor Van Rood and his co-researchers to discover nine different HLA antigens.
In addition to its value for kidney, heart and bone-marrow transplants and blood transfusions, his work has provided new insights into the relation between HLA genotypes and predisposition towards disease. The molecular and immunological basis of this is still being studied, but significant links between susceptibility to disease and HLA types have been identified.
Besides making extremely important contributions to fundamental and clinically-orientated scientific research, Professor Van Rood has proved himself an excellent organizer. Not only was he instrumental in setting up the Immunohematology Department and Blood Bank in Leiden, but he also provided support in starting over thirty tissue-typing laboratories worldwide.
About the laureate
Johannes J. van Rood was born in 1926 in The Hague. He studied medicine at the University of Leiden and in 1957 became an internist and head of the Immunohematology Department and the Blood Bank of Leiden University Hospital. After receiving his doctorate in 1962 he worked for a year in the Immunology Department of the Public Health Research Institute in New York, before returning to Leiden, where he was appointed Professor of Internal Medicine in 1969. Since 1976 he has been Director of the Hematology Department of Leiden University Hospital. He is one of the founders of the Leiden Institute for Immunology. In 1986 he accepted a guest professorship at the Free University of Brussels.
In 1967 Professor Van Rood set up the Eurotransplant organisation and in 1985 the European Foundation for Immunogenetics, of which he became chairman.
Eurotransplant was started by Van Rood in order to promote the optimum exchange of organs and tissue. Eurotransplant has grown into an important organisation which looks for the best possible donors for kidney transplant patients in the Benelux and Germany.
Professor Van Rood is a member of many international organisations. In 1978 he became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received many honours, including eight honorary doctorates, as well as prizes in recognition of his scientific work.