Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for Emmanuelle Charpentier

HZI researcher honoured for discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 system

One of this year’s Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences was bestowed to HZI researcher Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier. The twelve prizes, each endowed with 3 Million US dollars, were awarded on 9 November in Silicon Valley. Charpentier is head of the research department “Regulation in Infection Biology” at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig, holds an Alexander von Humboldt professorship at Hannover Medical School (MHH) and also leads a research group at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) in Umea, Sweden. The Frenchwoman is one of the discoverers of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a biotechnological tool for targeted genome editing.

The underlying mechanism was found in bacteria, which use it to protect themselves from viruses. They recognise specific sequences and are capable of cleaving viral genomes. Researchers are now using this system in the laboratory to perform targeted interventions in the genetic material of cells. In the future, this technique could be used to cure genetic disorders. Treating HIV infections could be possible as well.

The Breakthrough Prize was initiated by Google founder Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, among others. The prize is awarded for the third time and was created to honour great scientists and their ground-breaking discoveries. Besides Life Sciences, it is also bestowed in Physics and Mathematics.

Emmanuelle Charpentier came to Germany as a Humboldt professor from Sweden in 2013. Her research on the CRISPR-Cas technology has received a lot of attention and recognition lately: In March she received the Göran Gustaffson Award of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and was elected to become a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in May. She received the Dr Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research from the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson in September. Recently, she was given the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. 


More information can be found on the HZI website