The Louis-Jeantet-Prize for Medicine 2005

Prize winners are Prof. Alan Hall, Medical Research Council, London, and Prof. Svante Pääbo, Max Planck Institute for evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

January 11, 2005

The Louis-Jeantet-Prize for Medicine encourages further projects of excellence in the prize-winners’ laboratories. Alan HALL receives the prize for pioneering work on the regulation of cytoskeleton dynamics in cell adhesion, migration and polarity. With the prize, Alan Hall will further investigate the role of certain enzymes, known as small GTPases and guanine nucleotide exchange factors, in relation to the cytoskeleton, as they may play an important role in metastatic tumour cell invasion. Svante Pääbo receives the prize for his innovative research on the evolution of the human genome in comparison to that of other primates. With the prize, Svante Pääbo wants to identify genes involved in traits that are unique to humans such as speech and language faculties or other cognitive functions. He will investigate the role of these genes in mice. THE Louis-Jeantet Foundation for Medicine awards the two prize-winners a cumulative sum of 0.8 million Euros to carry out their new research projects. In addition each prize-winner receives a personal award of 75,000 Euros. The ceremony to present the prize will take place in Geneva (Switzerland), on Friday April 22nd, 2005.

Professor Alan Hall

Alan Hall is a professor of molecular biology and the director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology & Cell Biology Unit at the University College London. Alan Hall is a British citizen. He was born in 1952.

The cytoskeleton, composed of actin and myosin, is important for epithelial cells to adopt the correct polarity and to organize cell-cell junctions that attach them firmly to neighbouring cells so that they form a cell layer. The cytoskeleton is also profoundly rearranged when cells migrate. Alan Hall receives the Louis-Jeantet Prize for his discovery that specific enzymes, small GTPases known as Rho and Rac, locally modify the assembly of the cytoskeleton and thereby control both cell-cell adhesion and cell migration. Since tumour invasion requires an inhibition of cell-cell adhesion and an increase of the cell’s migratory activity, Alan Hall's work is of great importance for the understanding of how epithelial tumour cells become metastatic. Alan Hall is particularly interested in finding out what genetic alterations affect the signalling pathways of Rho GTPases, for instance, to modify the regulation of the cytoskeleton and to permit epithelial tumour cells to escape from the primary tumour.

With the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine, Alan Hall wants to further investigate how the specificity of Rho GTPases for their targets is controlled. To this end he plans to increase or diminish the expression of about 85 different human guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) that potentially interact with Rho GTPases and to test how they influence the migratory properties of tumour cells. Alan Hall plans to recruit two new collaborators to his project.

Professor Svante Pääbo

Svante Pääbo is an honorary professor of genetics and evolutionary biology. He is the director of the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Svante Pääbo is a Swedish citizen. He was born in 1955.

Svante Pääbo is a pioneer in the study of ancient DNA. He has developed techniques that make the retrieval of DNA from museum specimens and archaeological remains possible and instituted controls that set standards in this field. More recently, he has focused on comparative evolutionary studies of primate genomes. His work aims to discover specific genetic changes that took place in the recent human evolution when our species acquired phenotypic traits that set it apart from our closest relative, the chimpanzee. By comparing the human genome and its functional expression to that of other primates, it has become feasible to identify changes that were fixed in the genome by positive selection and may thus have conferred an advantage to human ancestors. Understanding the genetics of such traits not only broadens our fundamental knowledge about evolution and human biology, it may also contribute to our understanding of the basis of diseases that affect traits specific to humans, for example speech or cognitive abilities.

With the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine, Svante Pääbo wants to study the function of genes which were positively selected in human evolution that show differences between humans and apes. One of these genes, FOXP2, is involved in speech and language development. To this end he will create transgenic mice that carry either the human or chimpanzee version of the gene. Svante Pääbo plans to recruit two new collaborators to his project.

The Louis-Jeantet Foundation for Medicine

The Louis-Jeantet Foundation for medicine was established according to the will of Louis Jeantet, a French businessman with a vast fortune, who died in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1981.

Based in Geneva, the Louis-Jeantet Foundation for medicine started its activities in 1983. The Foundation awards a major scientific prize, the purpose of which is to foster innovative biomedical research in Europe.

In addition, the Louis-Jeantet Foundation for medicine encourages high-quality research at the University of Geneva Medical School by endowing professorships. Louis-Jeantet professors are provided with funds for research and administrative personnel.

The Louis-Jeantet Foundation for Medicine

The Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine is not intended to honour past, or already celebrated, achievements. Rather, it is awarded with a view to stimulating the highest quality of research projects that the prize-winners' institutions would not be able to fund in their entirety.

Prize-winners must be engaged in basic or clinical medical research in a member country of the Council of Europe, although they need not be themselves European nationals.

Since its inception in 1986, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine has been awarded to sixty researchers working in Europe: nineteen in the United Kingdom, twelve in Switzerland, ten in Germany, nine in France, three in the Netherlands, three in Sweden, two in Belgium, one in Austria and one in Finland.

The winners of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for medicine receive an award to carry out new research projects, as well as a personal prize. The total sum awarded by the Foundation, since 1986, to the prize-winners for the pursuit of their research work, amounts to about 25 million Euros.

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