Prizes awarded for future scientific projects

Will mice provide the clue to a new technique for grafting heart cells? Keystone Archive

Three teams of scientists from the region of Lake Geneva have shared the 2001 Leenaards Prizes, aimed at encouraging scientific research. The awards, worth SFr1.1 million, will help to fund their work in cardiology, cancer research and genetics.

This content was published on April 5, 2001 - 19:18

The first project, led by two scientists from Lausanne, is looking at ways of grafting new and perfectly functioning heart cells onto the hearts of patients suffering from cardiac failure.

Dr Freddy Ratke, a biologist at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Lausanne and Dr Thierry Pedrazzini, a biochemist at the University of Lausanne Medical School, are working with mice to see if there are any cells available within the cardiac tissue itself which can be used for this purpose.

They hope that potential cardiac fibres could be taken directly from a patient's own body, reprogrammed in the laboratory and used for auto-transplants, avoiding any risk of rejection.

Cardiovascular diseases are currently one of the main causes of mortality in the West.

The second project explores an unusual therapeutic approach to the treatment of ovarian cancer - infecting tumour cells with viruses in order to destroy them with lasers.

Ovarian cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other gynaecological tumours. "Only about 30 per cent of patients survive more than five years," said Dr Attila Major, a gynaecologist at the University Hospital of Geneva.

Major has teamed up with Richard Iggo, a researcher at the Swiss Institute of Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) in Lausanne, and Lucienne Juillerat-Jeanneret, a biochemist at the University of Lausanne, to improve the detection and treatment of the disease.

The winners of the third award are biochemist, Martine Collart, from the university of Geneva, and Francoise Stutz, a biologist at the Lausanne Institute of Microbiology. They are studying yeast to find out how genes are activated within cells.

The nucleus of every human cell carries a full complement of the genes that make up that particular individual. However, the 30,000 functional genes present in each cell do not all express themselves at once but operate according to well-defined rules.

Collart and Stutz have already identified certain molecules which affect the expression of a gene, including a protein complex (Ccr4-Not). "As far as we are aware, this protein complex prevents a category of genes from being expressed at the wrong time," said Collart.

"Although we discovered these Ccr4-Not proteins in yeast, they have been preserved through the evolutionary process and still recur in human cells, which is why they are worth studying."

by Vincent Landon

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