The 2015 LOUIS-JEANTET PRIZE FOR MEDICINE is awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, Head of the Department Regulation in Infection Biology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany and Guest Professor at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine, Umeå University, Sweden, and to RUDOLF ZECHNER, Professor of Biochemistry, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of Graz, Austria.
The LOUIS-JEANTET FOUNDATION grants the sum of CHF 700'000 for each of the two prizes, of which CHF 625'000 is for the continuation of the prize-winner's work and CHF 75'000 for their personal use.
THE PRIZE-WINNERS are conducting fundamental biological research that is expected to be of considerable significance for medicine.
Emmanuelle Charpentier of France is awarded the 2015 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for her contribution in harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful technology for editing genomes.
Bacterial pathogens also possess an immune system that defends them against predators, and particularly viruses. When studying this system, Emmanuelle Charpentier's team unravelled a unique mechanism - CRISPR-Cas9 - a pair of molecular scissors composed of a duplex of two RNAs linked to a protein. The system was harnessed into a new tool that makes genome editing within the cell almost like child's play. It is a revolution for biology, and certainly also for medicine.
Emmanuelle Charpentier will use the prize money to conduct further research on the mechanisms governing the pathogenicity of a streptococcus, namely Streptococcus pyogenes.
RUDOLF ZECHNER of Austria is awarded the 2015 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for his contribution to our understanding of the vital role of lipids metabolism in the development of certain diseases.
Obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease: these illnesses that have become worldwide epidemics are often caused by dysfunctions of lipid metabolism. Rudolf Zechner and his colleagues discovered a new enzyme (adipose triglyceride lipase or ATGL), which plays a key role in this metabolism, degrading the fats and extracting the energy from nutrients. They also demonstrated that ATGL is involved in cachexia, an irreversible weight loss that affects numerous cancer patients, thus opening the way to new forms of treatment for this pathology.
Rudolf Zechner will use the prize money to study the (patho)physiological role of known and new enzymes involved in lipid metabolism
THE AWARD CEREMONY will be held in Geneva (Switzerland) on Wednesday, 22 April 2015.
Born 1968 in Juvisy-sur-Orge (France), Emmanuelle Charpentier studied biochemistry and microbiology at the Pierre & Marie Curie University of Paris, and obtained her PhD at the Institut Pasteur. She then continued her work in the United States at the Rockefeller University, the New York University Medical Center, and then the St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. After returning to Europe, she set up a research group in microbiology at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories of the University of Vienna (Austria). Subsequently she was appointed Associate professor and then Guest Professor at Umeå University (Sweden). Since 2013, she is Head of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany, and Professor at the Medical School of Hannover.
Emmanuelle Charpentier was elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2014, and was selected as one of the American Foreign Policy magazine's 100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2014. She has already received numerous awards for her research, including in 2014 the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, the Dr Paul Janssen Award, the Grand-Prix Jean-Pierre Lecocq (French Academy of Sciences), the Göran Gustafsson Prize (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) and in 2015 the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
"Scissors" for cleaving genes
Pathogenic bacteria possess an immune system that defends them against predators, and particularly against attacks by viruses (bacteriophages). When examining how this defence system works for Streptococcus pyogenes, Emmanuelle Charpentier's team noted that it uses a duplex of two small RNA molecules that contain sections of the virus genome (or CRISPR) and thus carry the memory of a previous attack. The microbiologists furthermore discovered that the CRISPR acted as the guide for a protein (Cas9), which kills the virus by cleaving its genome at particular points. So these two entities grouped together, the CRISPR-Cas9 complex, permit the streptococcus to resist virus attacks.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and co-workers then profited from this existing defence mechanism of bacteria, using it to make CRISPR-Cas9 into a real tool for cleaving the DNA of bacterial and also human cells at precise points. These "genetic scissors" can be used for targeting any gene in a cell in order to modify it. It is henceforth possible to modify gene expression, to switch it "on" or "off", to change, repair or remove genes. This new tool is now used in molecular biology laboratories around the world. It could also revolutionize medicine by paving the way to finding new forms of treatment for currently incurable diseases.
Rudolf Zechner was born in 1954 in Graz, Austria. He studied biochemistry at his hometown university, and in 1980 earned his PhD. He subsequently worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University of New York. He then returned to the University of Graz and in 1998 became Professor of Biochemistry at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of Graz.
A member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Rudolf Zechner has already received numerous prestigious awards, in particular the Wittgenstein Prize, Austria's highest scientific award, as well as an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.
An enzyme that degrades fat
Obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease continue to grow unabated around the world. These disorders are often caused by dysfunctional lipid metabolism. This in turn leads to accumulations of fats and cholesterol in the liver and heart or on the walls of the arteries, resulting in malfunctions in these organs or tissues.
Rudolf Zechner and his colleagues studied the mechanisms governing the metabolism of lipids for more than 15 years and specifically focused on lipases, enzymes that degrade fats. They found that a new enzyme belonging to this family, adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL) and its protein co-activator CGI-58, facilitate lipid catabolism in both mice and humans. In other words, these biological molecules play a crucial role in the storage and mobilisation of fats in our body. This discovery revolutionized our understanding of fat turnover. It also offered a mechanistic explanation for the occurrence of rare genetic diseases termed «neutral lipid storage diseases», caused by a deficiency of ATGL or of its protein co-activator.
More recently, Rudolf Zechner and his team sought to understand how the breakdown of fat influences cell functions and the pathogenesis of disease. They were able to show a strong correlation between the catabolism of fats and cardiac function. To their surprise, they also discovered that lipid catabolism was involved in the development of cachexia, which takes the form of an uncontrolled and irreversible loss of weight in numerous cancer patients. The Austrian researchers have thus possibly identified a new direction for the treatment of this serious condition.
THE LOUIS-JEANTET PRIZE FOR MEDICINE
Every year, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine distinguishes leading-edge researchers who are active in the Council of Europe member countries.
Established in 1986, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine has thus so far been awarded to 82 researchers: 25 in the United Kingdom, 14 in Germany, 14 in Switzerland, 14 in France, four in Sweden, three in the Netherlands, two in Austria, two in Belgium, two in Finland and two in Norway. Among the 82 prize-winning researchers, 10 subsequently won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, or the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
As one of the best-endowed awards in Europe, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine fosters scientific excellence. It is not intended as the consecration for work that has been completed, but to finance the continuation of innovative research projects with high added value and of more or less immediate practical significance in the treatment of diseases. Since 1986, a total sum of approximately CHF 55m has been awarded by the Foundation to the 82 prize-winners for the continuation of their work.
THE LOUIS-JEANTET FOUNDATION
The Louis-Jeantet Foundation, set up in 1982, is the legacy of Louis Jeantet, a French businessman and a citizen of Geneva by adoption. Its aim is to move medicine forward and to defend the role and identity of European biomedical research vs. international competition. Established in Geneva, the Foundation devotes its efforts to recognizing and fostering medical progress in an open Europe for the common good.
The Louis-Jeantet Foundation allocates some CHF 4.5m each year to promoting biomedical research. It invests this sum in equal proportions for European and for local research projects. On the local level, the Foundation encourages teaching and the development of research at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, and by financing research projects promotes cooperation between this faculty and the graduate schools and university hospitals of the Lake Geneva region.
Since 2010, EMBO and the Louis-Jeantet Foundation jointly promote the leading-edge research work of the winners of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine. In this context, the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine features special contributions by the prize-winners and hosts the Louis-Jeantet prize-winners' lectures given during the annual EMBO Congress.
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