Winner of the 2017 Foulkes Medal announced

Dr Cristina Lo Celso, a Reader in Stem Cell Biology at Imperial College London, has been announced as the winner of the Foulkes Foundation Medal 2017.

The Foulkes Medal is awarded biennially to a rising star within biomedical research for contributing important and significant impacts to the field before, or in, their first independent position.

This year’s winner, Dr Lo Celso, uses stem cells to study how leukaemia, cancer of the blood, develops and relapses. Leukaemia affects adults and children and has one of the highest cancer mortality rates, partially due to its high rate of recurrence. Dr Lo Celso’s research hopes to provide better treatments for sufferers of this devastating disease, with her developments set to be translated for clinical use.

On receiving the award, Dr Lo Celso said:

“Receiving this prestigious medal is a real honour. For my research to be recognised by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Foulkes Foundation is incredibly inspiring, and will only increase my determination to work towards improving therapies and learn how to prevent disease.”

Dr Lo Celso’s prolific career has stretched across several disciplines and countries, taking her from Italy to England via the USA. By working internationally and setting up an interdisciplinary laboratory, she has set out a clear example of integrative and shared global science, both of which are key passions of hers.

Her earliest scientific breakthrough was made during her time in the USA, at Harvard University, where she developed pioneering microscopy techniques, allowing scientists to view living blood stem cells inside their natural environment for the first time, a huge step for global blood cell research.

More recently she has made great advances in looking at the way in which leukaemia cells move around the body, and why the bodies’ bone-making cells disappear during the development of the disease. The aim of this research is to optimise bone marrow transplantation and treatments for the most common type of adult leukaemia.

As a child she knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her Sicilian grandfather, who set up and ran a hospital on the Island of Sicily, by dedicating herself to improving people’s health. This led her to study Biotechnology in Medicine at the University of Turin in Italy. She then gained her PhD in Biochemistry at University College London, under Professor Fiona Watt FMedSci, who on the news of her win of the Foulkes Foundation Medal said:

“I am delighted that Cristina has received the Foulkes Foundation Medal. Her research into the interactions between stem cells and their environment in healthy blood and leukaemia combines cutting edge technology with superb mechanistic studies, providing a critical model for research.”

About Dr Lo Celso’s innovative scientific research, her primary nominator for the Foulkes Foundation Medal, Professor Bertie Göttgens, FMedSci, said:

"The stem cells Cristina works on are responsible for our life-long supply of blood cells. Damage to these cells lies at the heart of devastating diseases, including several types of leukaemia. Cristina’s work has provided ground-breaking new insights into the function of both normal and cancerous stem cells, by visualizing them directly within their native environment inside the bone marrow. Her research programme spans multiple complementary disciplines, from microscopy and cell biology to computing and mathematical modelling, and is poised to make a real impact on our understanding and treatment of leukaemia."

Dr Lo Celso will receive the medal, along with a cash prize, at the Academy of Medical Sciences' AGM on 5 December. She will also deliver a lecture on her research and life as a leading biomedical scientist to the Academy’s prestigious Fellowship.

Mrs Maureen Foulkes-Hajdu, Chairman of the Foulkes Foundation, said:

“It could not please me more to present the 2017 Foulkes Foundation Medal to such a revolutionary scientist. Dr Lo Celso has developed impressive techniques within her own field, and beyond, made even more remarkable by her early career stage. Her achievements will continue to advance stem cell biology and she will doubtless continue to rise in her field, brightening the future for sufferers of leukaemia. I am particularly delighted to welcome the first woman to join our very distinguished cohort of Foulkes Foundation Medal winners over the last ten years.”

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“The Foulkes Foundation Medal is awarded to celebrate the significant work of young, innovative biomedical researchers. This year's winner, Dr Lo Celso, represents what science needs the most right now: global, cross-discipline and ground-breaking research. She is a beacon of innovation and will drive forward the way specialists prevent and treat leukaemia. I look forward to seeing her career continue to make great waves in her field, reducing the suffering of those with leukaemia.”

About her research, Dr Cristina Lo Celso said:

“My fascination with stem cell biology is fuelled by the promise of improving human health, the goal being to unlock the secrets of stem cell function and potential. To have taken my work to a few short steps away from clinical use is incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally. Knowing that life changing impacts for currently suffering patients are within sight is the biggest push for me. I am determined to continue developing techniques that will reduce the relapse rate of leukaemia, with the ultimate goal to eliminate this aggressive disease forever.”

The Foulkes Foundation was established in 1972 by Dr Ernest Foulkes CBE HonMD HonFRCP, with the aim of promoting medical research, the training of scientists and the study of medicine. The Foulkes Foundation Medal has been awarded biennially since 2007.

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