Oxford biologist wins £500k research prize

A University academic, Professor Fiona Powrie, has been awarded the 2012 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine – worth nearly £500,000 – for her work in identifying cells that police the immune system in the intestine.

On being conferred the award, she said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, it’s a really excellent prize and great recognition for myself, but also the field that I have been working in for a long time. The prize is not really so much what I’ve done, but for areas that they think have got potential and it allows me to be able to continue my work.”

Professor Powrie’s work focuses on why the immune system does not attack the numerous beneficial bacteria, which inhibit the intestine. Her research has identified a class of cells, called regulatory T cells that police the immune response in the intestine, preventing it from attacking such bacteria. Her team has also further discovered that a deficiency of these cells can lead to chronic intestinal inflammatory disease.

The Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine is a top European award recognising excellence in biomedical research. Professor Powrie, the Sidney Truelove Professor of Gastroenterology and head of the experimental Medicine Division of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, will also receive close to £0.5 million prize money for the furtherance of her research.

She added: “The end goal is to be able to understand why, in some individuals, the relationship between the gut and our immune system breaks down and they develop these debilitating diseases. By understanding the scientific mechanisms we might be able to develop more therapies.”

Prof Powrie will receive the prize in Geneva in April. She is the 25th UK and 76th European researcher to be conferred this accolade since its launch in 1986.