Rickie Patani wins 2018 Paulo Gontijo Award

Rickie Patani

Crick group leader Rickie Patani has achieved international recognition for his research on motor neuron disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

He has been awarded the 10th International Paulo Gontijo Award in Medicine, which aims to encourage and recognise outstanding research on ALS biology by young principal investigators. 

On hearing the news, Rickie said: “In previous years the winners include some pretty eminent scientists, so I’m really honoured and grateful to receive this prestigious award. I feel very privileged to work with fantastic collaborators across UCL’s Institute of Neurology and the Francis Crick Institute, who are equally dedicated to understanding and curing ALS.”

Rickie’s research

In addition to running the Neurodegeneration Biology Lab at the Crick, Rickie is an associate professor at UCL’s Institute of Neurology and a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Rickie’s lab uses human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to generate neuronal and glial cells from patients with ALS and healthy volunteers, to work out the earliest molecular events of disease pathology.

What are iPSCs?

Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, are adult cells that have been reverted back into stem cells capable of becoming any cell type. Under the right conditions, they can be coaxed into becoming the cell type that researchers want to study such as nerve cells or blood cells.  

His work emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary and team science, integrating stem cell biology, developmental biology, neuropathology, bioinformatics and RNA biology.

The lab specifically focuses on two main areas: how abnormalities in RNA transcript structure lead to aberrant RNA-protein interactions to cause ALS and how glial cells of the brain – known as astrocytes – conspire with motor neurons to cause ALS.

By validating primary findings from ALS patient-specific iPSCs in mouse models and human post-mortem tissue from sporadic ALS cases, Rickie’s team aim to translate their discovery science into new therapeutic strategies, which are desperately needed in ALS.

The award

The decision to award Rickie this year’s prize was made by the international jurors of the Instituto Paulo Gontijo in Brazil, composed of scientific authorities involved in ALS research. The award is supported by the Motor Neuron Disease Association, International Alliance of MND/ALS Associations and the European Network for the Cure of ALS.

Rickie will receive $20,000 and a Gold Medal awarded at the opening of the 29th International ALS/MND Symposium in Glasgow on 7 December 2018.

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