26 September 2016

Pioneer in Danish cancer research is awarded this year’s Fernström Prize

Fernström Prize

This year, the Fernström Prize, rated amongst the most prestigious medical prizes in the Nordic countries, is awarded to Professor Jiri Lukas from the University of Copenhagen for his groundbreaking research on cancer. He shares the prize with Professor Jiri Bartek from the Danish Cancer Society.

Revolutionary discoveries, innovative research and a life-long dedication to solving the many mysteries related to cancer. The prestigious Fernström Prize is one of the greatest medical acknowledgments in the Nordic countries, and this year it is awarded to two researchers who have contributed to a number of decisive breakthroughs in cancer research.

Since embarking on my research career, I have worked towards one specific goal: understanding, on a molecular level, how normal human cells are transformed into cancer cells. The key to solving the mystery of cancer lies in the biochemical processes that keep our genomes stable, and once we fully understand these mechanisms, we’ll be able to develop more efficient cancer treatments. The Fernström Prize is an important recognition of our work, but it’s also a pivotal motivating factor in our life-long fight to solve the mysteries related to cancer,” says Jiri Lukas, Professor and Director of Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen, who shares the prize with his colleague, Jiri Bartek, from The Danish Cancer Society.

The work of the two researchers has led to several breakthroughs that have paved the way for contemporary cancer research. Among others, they have discovered how cells are able to gain extra time to repair damaged DNA without making mistakes. This is important as a hasty repair process is prone to cause mistakes that in turn may predispose to cancer. They also succeeded to visualize proteins that carry out DNA repair directly at the ‘sites of crime’ - damaged chromosomes in living human cells. Amongst their most important achievements is the discovery that early after cancer initiation, DNA damage is generated as the DNA copies itself during cell division. Importantly, the scientists discovered that in this case DNA damage carries out a positive role by activating protein messengers that delay cancer progression. Most recently, Lukas and Bartek groups identified specific repair proteins that cancer cells consume in higher quantities than normal cells, and showed that cancer cells use these repair proteins to sustain their excessive proliferation. In a form of a metaphor, cancer cells seem to ‘live at the edge’ and the new findings by this years’ Fernström Prize Laureates opens up new opportunities to search for drugs that would exploit this specific form of cancer vulnerability to eliminate cancer while leaving normal and healthy cells intact.Jiri Lukas’ and Jiri Bartek’s ambitious and focused research most certainly deserves the huge recognition that comes with the Fernström Prize. They have persistently and insistently examined the biological mechanisms that lead to the development of cancer. Several of their research breakthroughs have contributed to the current progress of modern cancer research. Their work is a model example of how basic research is one of the important building blocks on which future treatments rely,“ says Dean Ulla Wewer from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

The Fernström Prize is awarded by the Fernströmstiftelsen. It was established in 1978 by Eric K. Fernström in support of medical research and it is awarded annually during Research Day at Lund University. Last year, the University of Copenhagen also received the Fernström Prize when Professor Jens Juul Holst was awarded the prize for his research. The two researchers have previously received the Novo Nordisk Prize and Mendel Honorary Medal.

Read more about the scientist, Jiri Lukas, in this portrait.

Read more about the Fernström Prize.

Professor Jiri Lukas, mail: jiri.lukas@cpr.ku.dk, mobile: +45 23 26 82 70