SOURCE: L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

March 24, 2016 15:15 ET

International Science Community Honors US Professor as One of the World's Leading Women Scientists

Professor Jennifer Doudna From University of California Berkeley Is Recognized for Reinventing Genetic Research

PARIS, FRANCE--(Marketwired - March 24, 2016) - The world of science gathered to honor five of the planet's leading women scientists at a global awards ceremony at La Maison de la Mutualitie in Paris. For the past 18 years, the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards have recognized leading women scientists for their work in the fields of Life and Physical Sciences.

For the first time in the program's history, the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards honored a research duo; a French researcher based in Germany and an American Professor for their collaboration in genome editing technology.

Professor Jennifer Doudna from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California Berkeley was awarded for her game-changing discovery, alongside Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck institute in Berlin, Germany, of a versatile DNA editing technique to "rewrite" flawed genes in people and other living organisms, opening tremendous new possibilities for treating, even curing, diseases.

Video of Professor Doudna discussing her passion for science.

According to the jury of 13 prominent scientists in the international scientific community, Professors Charpentier and Doudna's development of a ground breaking new technology has 'set the scientific world on fire,' reinventing genetic research and making it possible to perform microsurgery on DNA, the genetic material of plants, animals and humans. Working in collaboration, the two researchers discovered an easy way to alter any organism's DNA. Known as CRISPR-Cas9, this genome editing technique enables scientists to remove and add pieces of genetic material with exquisite precision. It can be used to disable genes, correct genetic disorders or to insert genes to create animal models of human disease.

There are currently over 100,000 incurable conditions caused by single genetic defects. The technology they developed offers new means of developing medicines. It offers the possibility of removing faulty disease causing DNA, for instance in cells in the lungs of children affected with cystic fibrosis or the muscles of those with some forms of muscular dystrophy. Already it has been used to save the life of a child with an incurable leukemia and to improve the sight of those with the genetic eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa. 

Professor Doudna was honored in Paris and received a prize of EUR100,000 to reward her contribution to science.

The laureates were nominated by more than 2,600 leading scientists and the final five selected by an independent and international jury of 13 prominent scientists in the global scientific community. For this year's awards, a new jury was led by former Laureate and Nobel Prize winner, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn. Her research on telomeres, the 'caps' on the end of chromosomes that protect DNA, has transformed our understanding of aging and cancer.

At this year's Awards the organizers will unveil a global Manifesto calling on governments, global organizations and the general public around the world to fight for equality at every level in the sciences.

Despite making up half the population, only 28% of the world's science researchers are women and just 3% of Nobel prizes for science have been won by women. The L'Oréal Foundation and UNESCO are convinced that more needs to be done in order to step up the pace of change by launching a digital campaign to engage the scientific community, the institutional and the general public to sign the Manifesto For Women in Science.

Each of the laureates will appear in a poster campaign shown in airports, newspapers and on the streets as part of a publicity campaign with the slogan 'Women in Science Have the Power to Change the World.'

The L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science program was founded in 1998 with a simple aim: to ensure that women are fairly represented at all levels in science.

We face unprecedented challenges in our world: climate change, sustainable energy, affordable healthcare, security among others issues. Part of the solutions will come from science and science needs women. Those recognized by the L'Oréal-UNESCO program have already proved how transformative their science can be in addressing these challenges.

In the 18 years since its foundation, the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program has honored 92 Laureate eminent scientists and supported 2438 young women in science. These brilliant women researchers have, each in their own way, truly made the world a better place.

Impacting the lives of people around the planet, their discoveries are offering new solutions and answering vital questions. Their groundbreaking innovation is advancing entire fields of research and even opening new ones. The program's Laureates are contributing to curing disease, increasing food supplies, enabling sustainable development, helping ensure the survival of our planet to better understand our universe, adding to our knowledge of the very foundations of life.

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