2023 Crick translation prize goes to Anaid Benitez

Crick postdoctoral research Anaid Benitez has been awarded this year’s Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation, for her work on tumour diagnostics and her leadership of the Crick Science Entrepreneur Network (CSEN). The Crick Science Entrepreneur Network is a student-led group encouraging Crick researchers to take the next steps to find applications for their research.

Four people at an evening event, with one of them holding a glass trophy.

Chair of the Crick's Translation Advisory Group David Roblin, runner-up Andreia Bernardo, winner Anaid Benitez and Director of Translation Veronique Birault.

The Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation highlights the contributions of scientists at the Francis Crick Institute who are driving innovation, improving healthcare, and inspiring a new generation of translational researchers. It is named in honour of Sir David Cooksey, a key figure in UK medical research and former Chair of the Crick’s Board of Trustees.

I feel incredibly lucky to have entered the translation world at the Crick, where the translation framework is strong, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is thriving.
Anaid Benitez

Anaid's journey towards winning this prize started with her postdoctoral project. She developed real-time tests that look for ‘homologous recombination deficiency’ or HRD in tumours. DNA in all cells, including tumours, is typically being damaged and repairing itself constantly. But if HRD is present, the tumour can’t repair its own DNA. If a tumour tests positive for HRD, it means that treatments that interrupt DNA repair are more likely to be effective, helping to match the right treatments to the right patients.

Anaid also received the prize for founding and developing the Crick Science Entrepreneur Network (CSEN). CSEN is a student-led organisation dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation among scientists. Under her leadership and guidance, CSEN has rapidly evolved into a successful group that empowers researchers to explore entrepreneurship. 

"I'm honored and excited to have won this year's Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation," said Anaid. "I feel incredibly lucky to have entered the translation world at the Crick, where the translation framework is strong, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is thriving through initiatives like the Crick Science Entrepreneur Network, PULSE, and KQ Labs. It truly requires a collective effort to advance science to the clinic, and the journey has been remarkable." 

Andreia Bernardo has been named as the runner-up for the Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation. Andreia developed a unique method for growing a specific group of heart muscle cells – mature ‘left ventricular cardiomyocytes’ or LVCMs – from stem cells. The left ventricle is the area of the heart that develops first, and it’s also the area most commonly affected by heart disease and heart attacks, so being able to study it in detail is essential.

Supported by a Wellcome Trust Career Re-entry Fellowship, developmental biologist Andreia unravelled the essential processes behind development of the left ventricle and developed a unique protocol that could efficiently grow specialised and mature LVCMs from stem cells. This work opens up new opportunities for heart disease research, drug screening, and the potential development of new treatments. 

In 2020, Andreia secured a Crick ‘idea to innovation’ grant, followed by LifeArc and Crick funding in 2021 to refine and fully characterise LVCMs. The Crick then licensed her technology to Axol Bioscience, paving the way for new ways to use cardiomyocytes for research and contract research services. 

Anaid, Andreia and the rest of the nominees really demonstrate the innovative, multidisciplinary approach to translation that we want to nurture at the Crick," says Veronique Birault, Director of Translational Science. "From developing new diagnostic tools and protocols, to building thriving networks of entrepreneurial researchers, our scientists are constantly finding new pathways to translate their research into societal benefits."

Three ‘Early Career Translation Fellowships’ were also awarded to Charlotte Spencer, Anna Wilkins, and jointly to Sandra Segura-Bayona, Aurora Idilli and Shudong Li. The fellows help to expand our translation community and act as role models.

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