Crick prize for translation awarded to electron microscopy team

The Francis Crick Institute has awarded its flagship prize for scientists who have successfully translated knowledge from fundamental research into tangible health and economic benefit. The first Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation, awarded on Monday, was given to Lucy Collinson, Martin Jones, Lizzy Brama and Chris Peddie, who have pioneered electron microscopy imaging techniques at the Crick.

The annual prize recognises and celebrates individuals and teams who are contributing to the Crick's translation strategy. The prize aims to share excellence in translation, create awareness of translation work at the Crick and inspire others. The winners receive £10,000 for their ongoing research in addition to a £2,000 cash prize.

"It is an honour to receive this award, particularly considering the great innovations coming from the other nominees," said Lucy Collinson, who leads the Electron Microscopy Science Technology Platform (STP) at the Crick. "We have had great support from the translation team in educating and supporting us through the open innovation pathway, and it is fantastic to work in an institute that supports and recognises cutting-edge technology development in the STP setting."

The Electron Microscopy STP team were chosen for their new research-enabling tool which combines electron microscopy with fluorescence microscopy, and their approach to ensure wide dissemination and adoption of the technology developed at the Crick.

Sir David Cooksey

Sir David Cooksey

On announcing the award, Sir David Cooksey, former chairman of the Crick, said: "This year's well-deserved winners of the translation prize are an interdisciplinary team, with skills covering biology, microscopy, physics and software engineering. They have learnt to speak each other's languages to develop new solutions that will help to advance biomedical research at the Crick and beyond."

The team has worked with the Crick's in-house translation team to make the designs and knowledge of how to build their new technology available to the wider microscopy community through open access publications and training. They have also worked with innovative microscopy companies to commercialise the systems for sites that do not have the interdisciplinary skills to build their own.

These new microscopes will help us to understand the basic biology of how molecules and infectious agents behave in cells and tissues; the foundation upon which clinical translation can be built.

"Their work demonstrates that the Crick is an extraordinary place for innovation, in the science technology platforms as well as the research labs, enabling its scientists to achieve the Crick's aims," added Sir David. 

There were six nominations for this year's prize, which can broadly be classified under three categories - early validation of therapeutic targets, potential therapeutics or diagnostics, and technology platforms. Together, the nominations represent the breadth of translation taking place at the Crick.

"Choosing a winner was incredibly difficult because all of the projects were so strong," said Veronique Birault, who heads the Crick Translation team.

Sir David Cooksey, Lizzy Brama, Martin Jones, Lucy Collinson, Veronique Birault and Paul Nurse.

Sir David Cooksey, Lizzy Brama, Martin Jones, Lucy Collinson, Veronique Birault and Paul Nurse.

The prize committee was made up of Veronique Birault (Crick Head of Translation), Kate Bingham (VC partner at SVLS and Crick board member), Barbara Domayne-Hayman (entrepreneur and consultant at the Crick), Peter Parker (Crick Group Leader) and Roberto Solari (Crick Translation Advisory Group Member and Visiting Professor at the National Heart and Lung Institute and chairman of 3 SMEs). The committee was chaired by David Roblin, who is the Chair of Scientific Translation at the Crick and President of R&D at Summit Therapeutics.

Translation fellows

In recognition of the high standard of all the research projects this year, we have awarded 2017 Crick Translation Fellowships to the individuals and groups below. The fellows will help to create an outstanding translation community and be role models for others.

In collaboration with colleagues at GSK, Crick Group Leader Edgar Deu has been screening enzymes to try and find potential targets for new antimalarial drugs. So far, he has found one promising and tractable drug target ready for future drug discovery in malaria. 

As a postdoctoral scholar in the Crick's Protein Phosphorylation Laboratory, Audrey Colomba has developed and implemented a proof-of-concept screen to identify allosteric inhibitors of the HER3 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 3) protein that has a role in normal and aberrant cell growth. Her work with colleagues at AstraZeneca has put the use of HER3 as a drug target on a promising trajectory to provide alternative therapies for cancer patients who are resistant to drugs targeting a similar but distinct receptor. 

Romeo Racz and Mihaly Kollo have developed electrochemically modified microwires which enable recording and stimulation in mouse brains. Both postdoctoral scholars in the Neurophysiology of Behaviour Laboratory, they are making the technology available to other academic laboratories and working with an established neuroscience distributor to explore the market opportunities for their technology. 

The lung and renal TRACERx team is made up of Nicky McGranahan, Rachel Rosenthal, Andrew Rowan, Samra Turajlic, Mariam Jamal, Hanjani, Chris Abbosh, Nicolai Birkbak, Stuart Horswell, Kevin Litchfield, Tom Watkins, Gareth Wilson and Hang Xu. Working in Charlie Swanton's Translational Cancer Therapeutics Laboratory, they have made four major discoveries building on previous insights from the lab on the importance of clonal evolution in cancer and the critical role of clonal neoantigens in the immune response to cancer. The team is actively driving strategies for adoption and wider dissemination of these opportunities for treating cancer patients.

Crick Group Leader George Kassiotis and two postdoctoral scholars: Jan Attig in his lab along with George Young, in the Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory, have used their expertise in human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) to pioneer unique bioinformatics tools to discover new cancer-specific, HERV-driven antigens. They have taken steps to progress their discovery toward clinical use.

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