Emmanuelle Charpentier receives Ernst Jung Award for Medicine

HZI researcher honored for discovery of the CRISPR Cas system

08.01.2015

Emmanuelle Charpentier

© Helmholtz / Hallbauer&Fioretti

This year’s Ernst Jung Award, worth 300,000 Euro, goes to Prof Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig. She receives the prize for harnessing an ancient immune defense in bacteria – CRISPR-Cas9 – into a genome editing tool largely exploited in biologists and promising for curing genetic diseases. Charpentier is the head of the department “Regulation in Infection Biology” at the HZI and Alexander von Humboldt Professor affiliated at the Hannover Medical School.

Mucoviscidosis and hemophilia are only two examples of the over 10,000 genetic diseases known today – diseases caused by small mutations within the genes of a person. One promising tool for curing them is the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system which allows genes to be exchanged or mutated.

The system is based on a mechanism bacteria use to fight of viruses and that was deciphered by Charpentier and her team, while working at Umeå University, where she is still affiliated.  Together with the team of her colleague Prof Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, it was demonstrated that the mechanism could be harnessed into a powerful tool for genome engineering that is now largely used by the scientific community to perform genetics in a large number of cells and organisms.  The discovery is particularly interesting as the system can be used in many different areas. It is not only promising for curing and preventing genetic diseases but it could be used as a potential treatment for chronical diseases such as cancer and HIV and in the agricultural sector.

“The HZI is proud to offer excellent research conditions to one of the leading microbiologists world-wide. These conditions will allow Emmanuelle Charpentier to perpetuate her research on regulatory mechanisms in bacteria, such as the CRISPR-Cas system, and to transform the knowledge gained into medical applications”, says Prof Dirk Heinz, scientific director of the HZI.

The Ernst Jung Award for Medicine is one of the best endowed awards in Europe and has been supporting scientific projects since 1967. For Charpentier the award is a further recognition for her research and an additional surge of motivation.

“I want to bring my research area forward and show new perspectives in science and human medicine”, says Charpentier.