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Cancer Research UK scientist receives prestigious international prize for medicine.

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by Cancer Research UK | News

16 January 2007

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Professor Stephen West of Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute at Clare Hall Laboratories will be awarded the 2007 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine today (Tuesday). The accolade, which is worth €475,000 (approximately £320,000), recognises his pioneering work understanding aspects of the DNA repair process, which has yielded new important insights into the development of cancer.

Among the groundbreaking findings made by Professor West is the discovery of a ‘molecular switch’ that controls an essential DNA repair process – demonstrating for the first time why faults in the BRCA2 gene can lead to breast and ovarian cancer in some women. Professor West also identified a key protein that cells use to repair their DNA and protect us from cancer – the culmination of 15 years of research that may provide future targets for destroying the ability of cancer cells to repair themselves. This finding holds the potential to enhance the effectiveness of drug treatments and radiotherapy.

Dr Richard Treisman, Director of Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute and himself a recipient of the Louis-Jeantet Prize in 2002, said: “Stephen’s contribution to science has been immense and this award is richly deserved. He is a world leader in a complex and challenging area of science and his painstaking research has advanced our understanding of the DNA repair process in humans and provided clues on how this is linked to cancer and neurological disease.”

The Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine is awarded annually to between one and three scientists engaged in biomedical research across Europe to encourage further projects of excellence in the prize-winners’ laboratories. Professor West receives the 2007 award with Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, a researcher with the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

The Louis-Jeantet Foundation awards each of the prize winners €400,000 (£270,000) to pursue their research and €75,000 (£50,000) for personal use. With the prize money Professor West will carry out work in his laboratory to broaden understanding of inheritable syndromes, such as Fanconi anaemia, that are genetically linked to cancer.

Yorkshire-born Stephen West studied biochemistry at Newcastle University before carrying out post-doctoral work at Yale University in America. In 1985 Dr Tomas Lindahl, the first Director of Clare Hall, recruited Stephen back to the UK to set up an independent research group at the newly opened Laboratories. Still based at Clare Hall, Stephen is a Senior Group Leader at the London Research Institute. He has received numerous awards throughout his distinguished career including the Swiss Bridge Prize for Cancer Research in 2002. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

On learning of his latest award, Professor West said: “I’m absolutely delighted to receive this award and it’s a great honour for me to know that the Louis-Jeantet Foundation has chosen to support my research programme. I’ve worked in science for 30 years and it has been a wonderful journey of discovery and interaction with many of the world’s leading scientists.

“I’m grateful for the first-rate scientific support I’ve received from Cancer Research UK through the London Research Institute, and this award is testament to the hard work and dedication of the many students and researchers who have worked in my laboratory over the years. They have contributed to the development of new ideas and directions.”


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