Phillip Sansonetti is a French microbiologist who investigates the colonisation and invasion of the body’s mucosal membranes by bacteria, especially in the gut. Phillip’s many contributions to our understanding of bacterial infection stem from his discovery of the mechanism by which the bacterium Shigella — the facultative anaerobe responsible for dysentery — invades cells.
Through his interdisciplinary approach, Phillip has revealed the numerous ways in which bacteria undermine eukaryotic cells for the benefit of their own growth processes. These include hijacking actin to enable entry to host cells and blocking the migration of T-cells to sites of infection.
A side effect of such activity, however, is the occurrence of disease in their host — for instance, the severe diarrhoea that dysentery imparts. Due to this burden of ill health, especially on developing countries, Phillip is actively seeking vaccine candidates to target Shigella infection. He has received a number of prizes for his research, including the 1997 Robert Koch Award for excellence in the biomedical sciences.