The L’Oréal-UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) partnership for women in science announced the winners of the 2010 awards for the life sciences on Oct. 14. Stem cell researcher Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University is one of the five laureates, who represent different regions of the world and varied research topics.
“For a dozen years, the L’Oréal-UNESCO awards have recognized and promoted exceptional women who, by the excellence of their research, contribute to the advancement of science,” said Rockefeller University researcher and Nobel laureate Günter Blobel, in a UNESCO press release. Blobel presided over the jury of 18 international scientists that selected the five laureates.
Fuchs, who is Rebecca C. Lancefield Science Professor and head of the university’s Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development, won representing North America, for her research into skin biology and skin stem cells. According to UNESCO, she is being recognized for her contributions to understanding how stem cells are able to rejuvenate tissue throughout life, and repair tissue after injuries occur.
According to Fuchs’ professional web site, her overall goal is to understand how the stem cells of mammalian skin beget epidermis and hair follicles. “We study the molecular biology of how skin cells behave in vitro, and then exploit transgenic and gene knockout technologies to test skin protein function in vivo,” states an explanation on the site.
Fuchs works with mouse epithelial stem cells (keratinocytes) and human epithelial stem cells. These cells can be maintained and propagated while in culture. Fuchs’ laboratory focuses on a variety of life science fields including molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, and mouse and human genetics. Researchers at Fuchs’ laboratory were recently successful cloning the microRNA’s that are differentially expressed during skin development, to facilitate further stem cell research.
Fuchs was previously honored this year for her stem cell research with epithelial cells and hair follicles. She was presented with the 2009 National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama, on Oct. 7.
There are four other winners of the 2010 L’Oréal-UNESCO award, representing the Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Arab states, Europe, and Latin America. The Asia-Pacific regional award was given to Lourdes Cruz, a professor at the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines. The first Filipino laureate to receive the award, Cruz was selected for her discovery of the marine snail toxin conotoxin, which can assist in the development of drugs that focus on specific veins or muscles for neurological research.
Rashika El Ridi won representing Africa and the Arab States. She is a professor at Cairo University in Egypt, where she conducted basic research that led to the development of a vaccine against the tropical disease schistosomiasis, which is caused by a parasite transported by snails, often through a contaminated water supply.
Representing Europe, Ann Dejean-Assémat, a professor at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, is being recognized for her contributions to leukemia and liver cancer research. The final winner, representing Latin America, is Maria Alejandra Bravo, a professor at the Institute of Molecular Microbiology in Mexico. Her research uncovered a bacterial toxin that works as an effective insecticide.
The awards ceremony will take place on March 4, 2010 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Each winner will receive a monetary prize of $100,000. The L’Oréal-UNESCO partnership has been awarding this recognition for 12 years and has honored 62 laureates, 150 international fellows, and 700 national fellows.
Laureates from 2008, Elizabeth Blackburn and Ada Yonath, were recently named to receive Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine and chemistry respectively. “As we announce the laureates of the 2010 Awards, we are very proud to note that two laureates of the 2008 Awards will receive 2009 Nobel Prizes,” said Blobel in the UNESCO press release, “the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO awards laureates are among world’s best scientific talents and will serve as role models for the future of science.”