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Internationally renowned researchers become 2017 honorary doctors at the Faculty of Medicine

Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, and Dr. Paul Jenkins, Head of Statistics at Bassett Healthcare in New York, will receive 2017 honorary doctorates at the Faculty of Medicine, Umeå University.

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Paul Jenkins, both of whom have had a long term relationship with Umeå University, will be promoted to medical honorary doctors at Umeå University's annual celebration on 21 October.

Emmanuelle Charpentier photo Hallbauer and FiorettiRecruitment for successful new research in molecular infection medicine

Emmanuelle Charpentier was one of the first two internationally recruited researchers who became new group leaders when the research laboratory MIMS (The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden) was established in 2008 at Umeå University with support from the Swedish Research Council. Charpentier was recruited from the University of Vienna, Austria, where she had begun studies on RNA and regulation of gene expression in the bacterium Streptococcus.

Recruitment was conducted in collaboration with EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) and became the start of the successful build-up of MIMS, which is the Swedish node in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine.

At MIMS, Charpentier was given the opportunity to both expand and deepen the molecular studies of genes and molecular mechanisms that are part of the bacterial defence system against invasive viruses. As a group leader at MIMS, she published in Nature in 2011 a key paper describing the components of the CRISPR-Cas9 bacterial immune system and rules of processing of the guide RNAs within the system. This study layed the foundation for further discoveries reported in the 2012 publication in the journal Science. This paper described the last step of the CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism, DNA targeting, and provided guidelines enabling researchers around the world to apply the genome engineering technology in their cells and organisms of interest. The publications in Nature in 2011 and in Science in 2012 involved the laboratory of Emmanuelle Charpentier at MIMS and former team members in Vienna. The Science paper in 2012 additionally involved a group from the University California Berkeley led by Jennifer Doudna whom Emmanuelle Charpentier had approached to help explore the structural details of the system. The Science paper described what is now commonly known as the gene scissors that enable targeting and precise manipulation of genes in all types of organisms, from bacteria to human cells. The researchers under Charpentier's management successfully demonstrated how the CRISPR system from Gram-positive bacteria can target and cleave foreign DNA using a specific RNA-guided mechanism. An important part of the discovery was that the system is readily programmable, enabling its use to target selected DNA sequences in any setting, including in cells other than bacteria. Thus, Emmanuelle Charpentier, who had already developed genetic tools in the past, had this time paved the way for a new era in genetic research enabling the application of a versatile tool that not only facilitates basic molecular and cellular biological research but has been quickly applied to other purposes, including the ongoing development of novel gene therapies and the optimization of plants.

In 2013, Charpentier accepted an offer to move to the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), Braunschweig, Germany, where she became Director of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology, and at the same time obtained an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the Hannover Medical School. Her research activities continued at MIMS, and research collaboration between Umeå University and HZI in Braunschweig was deepened and stimulated through cooperation agreements.

In 2015, Emmanuelle Charpentier was appointed Director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany, and also initiated agreements aimed at facilitating cooperation in research with Umeå University. She has continued to participate actively in the Nordic cooperation in which MIMS participates in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine.

For many years now, Emmanuelle Charpentier has been very actively involved in the research at Umeå University, especially at the medical faculty, and has collaborated with the faculty's researchers and she actively contributes to the development of the molecular infection medicine field. During these years, Emmanuelle has published about thirty scientific articles in which her connection to Umeå University is clearly reflected. In addition, many appear in highly-followed scientific journals and are actively cited by other researchers around the world, providing positive effects both for our research activities at Umeå and for broader recognition of the university globally. For these continued accomplishments, the faculty of medicine is honouring Emmanuelle Charpentier with an honorary degree in medicine.

(Text: MIMS, picture: Hallbauer & Fioretti)

Read the complete press release of Umeå University (only published in Swedish)


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