New York, NY, September 8, 2020--The Vilcek Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2021 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Biomedical Science. Awarded annually, the prizes honor the contributions of immigrants to scientific research, discovery, and innovation in the United States. The 2021 Vilcek Foundation Prizes include the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science, and three Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.
The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science recognizes an immigrant scientist for outstanding career contributions to biomedical science with a global impact. Recipients of the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science receive a commemorative trophy and an unrestricted cash award of $100,000. The recipient of the 2021 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science is Ruth Lehmann, recently appointed director of the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Born in Germany, Lehmann receives the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science for unraveling the molecular basis by which germ cells, which give rise to sperm and egg cells, are formed. "Lehmann's discoveries--made over the span of three decades--have not only elucidated the processes essential for the perpetuation of life, but have served as important contributions applicable in many related fields," said Jan Vilcek, CEO and chairman of the Vilcek Foundation.
The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science are awarded to early-career immigrant scientists whose work represents a major step forward in their respective area of study, and serves to advance the landscape of scientific research in the United States. Each of the prizes includes a commemorative award and an unrestricted cash award of $50,000.
Mohamed Abou Donia, born in Egypt, is an associate professor of microbiology at Princeton University. He developed screening methods to reveal--with individual-level precision--how drugs are metabolized by the human gut microbiome, and he mapped microbiome-encoded genes involved in drug metabolism. His work has led to a molecular understanding of the role of chemical defense in the evolution of intricate symbiosis between organisms.
Ibrahim Cissé, born in the West African country of Niger, is an associate professor in the department of physics and in the department of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has shown that the enzyme RNA polymerase II--a central player in the process by which genes are decoded into RNA--forms transient and dynamic clusters while transcribing genes in living cells; his work has also revealed that the enzyme and its coactivator each clusters into condensates resembling liquid droplets.
Silvi Rouskin, born in Bulgaria, is the Andria and Paul Heafy Whitehead Fellow at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for developing methods to unravel the shapes of RNA molecules inside cells and aiding the potential development of RNA-based therapeutics. Recently, Rouskin uncovered the higher-order structure of the RNA genome of SARS-CoV-2--the virus that causes COVID-19--in infected cells at high resolution.
Recipients of the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science are identified through an open call for applications; all eligible applications are reviewed by a jury of experts appointed by the Vilcek Foundation. "This year's cohort of applicants for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science was the strongest we've ever reviewed," said Jan Vilcek. "The achievements of these outstanding scientists are a testament to the enormous value of immigration to the quality of science generated in the United States and demonstrate that efforts of the current administration to curtail the admission of foreign scientists are jeopardizing the primacy of United States science."