2011 Inserm Prizes: Honouring Perseverance

November 18 2011

The twelfth annual Inserm prizes will be awarded to seven researchers and research engineers at a ceremony to be held at the Collège de France on 6 December. We spotlight the winners of the Inserm Grand Prix, Prix International and the Prix d’honneur.

Alain Prochiantz, Grand Prix: An dogged, intuitive researched

Alain Prochiantz, Grand Prix - Inserm, P. Latron

Alain Prochiantz, Grand Prix

The winner of Inserm’s highest honour is a true scholar. Holder of the Chair of Morphogenetic Processes at the Collège de France, neurobiologist Alain Prochiantz has always enriched his thinking and research with readings from the classic authors in biology and numerous philosophers and writers. Writing, including plays with the director Jean-François Peyret, is also a real source of inspiration (see inset).

In 1991, while research director at the CNRS, he formulated the hypothesis that the form of the neurons in the brain is genetically regulated by the action of homeoproteins (1), which are the same proteins which determine the entire plan of organisation of a living being. An experiment then yielded unexpected results: these proteins are able to migrate from one cell to another which then directly expresses this information in decisions affecting physiology and development. It would take Alain Prochiantz fifteen years to demonstrate this newly discovered signal transduction pathway in vivo. The research has consequences for physiopathology and is the basis for the fertile pharmaceutical field of peptide vectors, vehicles that facilitate the transport of therapeutic agents inside cells.

Alain Prochiantz, a graduate of the Ecole normale supérieure and member of the Académie des sciences since 2003, has since studied the functions of homeoproteins and their transfer: axonal guidance, nervous system regionalization, cerebral cortex plasticity, protection against neuronal degeneration and the aetiology of neurological and psychiatric diseases.
Tenacious and consistently demanding, Alain Prochiantz is a man of unexplored paths.


A play by Jean François Peyret and Alain Prochiantz
"Ex vivo/In vitro" runs 17 November to 17 December at the Théâtre de la Colline.
What does it mean to engender, to be engendered and where do children come from? New methods of procreation raise issues that have always preoccupied humanity. After Tournant autour de Galilée and Les Variations Darwin, Jean-François Peyret and Alain Prochiantz continue to playfully and humorously mingle theatre and science, and take up the question of “to be born or not to be born” where they left off. Excerpt from http://www.colline.fr/fr/spectacle/ex-vivo-vitro

Susan Gasser, Prix International: A taste for the abstract

Susan Gasser, Prix International - Inserm, P .Latron

Susan Gasser, Prix International

Born in a small town in the United States, Susan Gasser is convinced that the world must be expressed in the language of mathematics. The biologist decodes intracellular movements using innovative statistical and computer tools. In 2001, her team succeeded in using a high-resolution microscope to film the movement of genes in the nucleus of a yeast cell. A breakthrough! These results and the study of the link between lesions and chromosome errors improve understanding of aging and cancer.

Susan Gasser is very attached to Europe and France, which she discovered as a student during a decisive stay near Nice: that’s when she chose to become a biologist. After completing a doctorate at the University of Chicago, she followed her future husband to Switzerland in 1979. Her career achievements are impressive: director of a biology laboratory at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC), professor at the Université de Genève, and, in 2004, director of the prestigious Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel. Her current research primarily focuses on the dynamics of DNA repair and epigenetic (2) processes involved in cellular differentiation.

Ethel Moustacchi, Prix d’Honneu: A committed adventurer

Ethel Moustacchi, Prix d’Honneur - Inserm, P. Latron

Ethel Moustacchi, Prix d’Honneur

Until 1985, Ethel Moustacchi used yeasts to analyze biological mechanisms of lesions and DNA repair. Her interest is in human cell culture. She has made major discoveries concerning genotoxic factors that predispose to cancer. She dedicated more than ten years to Fanconi’s (3) anaemia and issued a warning that would lead to greatly reduce the use of certain genotoxic psoralens in dermatology and tanning creams. Currently a scientific advisor to the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), she’s an advocate for the development of research on the health effects of low doses of ionising radiation on nuclear plant workers and health professionals.

Four other researchers and research engineers were honoured: Pierre Léopold (4) (Research Prize) for his fundamental research on the system of the fruit fly Drosophila; Geneviève de Saint Basile (5) (Research Prize), whose discoveries concerning the immune system bring together clinical and fundamental research; Frédéric Fiore (6) (Innovation Prize), technical manager of a novel platform for creating genetically-modified mice; Claude Delpuech (7) (Innovation Prize), who leads CERMEP’s (8) department of magnetoencephalography in Lyon.



(1) Homeoproteins: transcription factors that regulate gene expression involved in morphogenesis.
(2) Epigenetic processes: processes by which the environment and personal experience influence gene expression.
(3) Fanconi’s anaemia: rare genetic disorder affecting bone marrow which becomes unable to produce sufficient red blood cells.
(4) UMR6543 Institut de signalisation, biologie du développement et cancer, Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis
(5) Unité 768 Inserm/Paris 5, Développement normal et pathologique du système immunitaire, hôpital Necker-Enfants malades
(6) Unité 631 Inserm/Aix-Marseille 2, Plateforme KO-KI Booster, Centre immunologique Marseille-Luminy (CIML)
(7) Unité 1028 Inserm/Lyon 1-Claude-Bernard, Centre de recherche en neurosciences de Lyon
(8) Centre d’étude et de recherche multimodal et pluridisciplinaire en imagerie du vivant

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