Researcher Andrea Ablasser of Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology EPFL has received the Latsis Prize for her work on understanding the immune system.
The prize, worth CHF100,000 ($99,650), is awarded annually by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to researchers under 40 working in Switzerland. It is one of the country’s premier honours for scientific achievement.
Ablasser’s work involves understanding immune system responses, particularly a signalling pathway of the innate immune system discovered ten years ago. The so-called cGas/STING signal is launched when a DNA molecule surfaces in the wrong place in a cell, indicating an infection. This mobilises immune cells that fight viruses.
In some cases, however, the signal is a false alarm, with factors such as stress, cell ageing or disease causing the body's own DNA to incorrectly and excessively activate the cGAS/STING signalling pathway. This can contribute to a variety of diseases such as chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, according to the SNSF.
Ablasser and her team began researching a substance that could stop the false signal and eventually uncovered such an inhibitor. Its potential is now being further investigated for future therapies.
The researcher studied in Munich and Bonn, Germany as well as at Harvard Medical School and Oxford University before joining the EPFL in 2014.