John Diffley wins 2016 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

19 January 2016

John Diffley, Associate Research Director, the Francis Crick Institute, has been awarded the 2016 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. This award distinguishes those conducting fundamental biological research that is expected to be of considerable significance for medicine.

Andrea Ballabio, founder and director of the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (TIGEM), Italy, was also awarded this prize.

The Louis-Jeantet Foundation grants the sum of CHF 700'000 for each of the two prizes, of which CHF 625'000 is for the continuation of the prize winner's research and CHF 75'000 for their personal use.

John Diffley received the Prize for his contributions to understanding how DNA replication, a process essential to life, initiates.

When a cell in an organism divides to yield two identical daughter cells, its DNA is first duplicated, or "replicated", as two identical copies. John Diffley has become one of the worldwide leaders in the study of the mechanisms governing this process of duplication. His work has allowed us to understand how DNA replication is initiated, and how it is subsequently regulated throughout the cell cycle and in response to DNA damage. Since any mistakes in this process can lead to genetic mutations causing tumours, this research could be significant in the fight against cancer.

John Diffley will use the prize money to conduct further research into the mechanisms involved in the replication of chromosomes in yeast and human cells.

The Award Ceremony will be held in Geneva (Switzerland) on Wednesday, 20 April 2016.

The Louis-Jeantet Prize For Medicine

Every year, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine distinguishes leading-edge researchers who are active in the Council of Europe member countries. As one of the best-endowed awards in Europe, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine fosters scientific excellence. It is not intended as the consecration for work that has been completed, but to finance the continuation of innovative research projects with high added value and of more or less immediate practical significance in the treatment of diseases.


John Diffley

John Diffley was born 1958 in New York (USA) and studied in his home town (New York University) where he received his BA and PhD. Following a period as a post-doctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New-York, he left for the UK in 1990. He continued his research at the Clare Hall Laboratories, where he became the director in 2006. In the same year he was made Deputy Director of the London Research Institute, and in 2015 became Associate Research Director at the Francis Crick Institute.

John Diffley was elected as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 1998. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Academia Europaea, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the European Academy of Cancer Sciences. In 2003 he won the American Paul Marks prize for cancer research.

The start of genome duplication

Cell duplication, in which a cell becomes two daughter cells, is essential for all life, from bacteria to human beings. The first stage of this process involves the copying, or replication, of the DNA of the mother cell in a precisely regulated manner to make exactly two complete copies, one for each of the daughter cells. This "once per cell cycle" genome duplication is crucial for organisms to maintain a stable genetic composition during their lives and through evolution. In human cells, this means the precise duplication of over a billion base pairs each time a cell divides. To do this, replication initiation from 50-100,000 chromosomal sites, known as "replication origins", must be tightly coordinated to ensure no origin is used more than once in a cell cycle.

John Diffley enjoys worldwide recognition for his work on the mechanism driving the initiation of DNA replication, using yeast, and human cells for his research. He and his team used chromosomal replication origins to characterise and ultimately reconstitute the protein machinery required to initiate DNA replication once in each cell cycle.

Any error in DNA replication or its initiation can result in genome instability that may contribute to the development of cancers. John Diffley's research work could therefore have significant implications for cancer biology.


  • The Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine distinguishes those conducting fundamental biological research that is expected to be of considerable significance for medicine.