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EMBO Gold Medallists meet in Singapore


The EMBO Gold Medallist Symposium 2015 took place at the Biopolis in Singapore over three days from 11-13 May. More than 450 scientists and researchers converged on the Matrix Building’s Breakthrough & Discovery Theatrette to hear talks from previous winners of the EMBO Gold Medal. The event was jointly organized by LKCMedicine and A*STAR.



LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Research Professor Philip Ingham FRS and Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO, welcomed participants to the event. "By bringing together experts from a wide range of scientific disciplines, the symposium’s programme breaks away from the traditional thematic approach," said Ingham in his opening remarks. He also highlighted that the meeting was a great opportunity for students to hear first hand from the medallists about the challenges they have faced on the way to making their discoveries. “We are about to hear talks from scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the life sciences and I am excited to learn about the progress they have made in their research,” said Leptin.  She also outlined EMBO’s path toward international cooperation and scientific exchange in the life sciences and the importance of the organization’s relationship with Singapore as a role model for further activities (see box).


The EMBO Gold Medal award was started almost 30 years ago and acknowledges young scientists for their outstanding contributions to the life sciences. The event featured scientific talks from Gold Medallists from the last four decades, including a presentation from the 1990 Gold Medal winner Professor Erwin Wagner from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO). Wagner is currently Director of the newly founded BBVA Foundation – CNIO Cancer Cell Biology Programme as well as Head of the Genes, Development and Disease Group at the CNIO. Professor Wagner spoke on the first day of the meeting about the transcription factor AP-1, a protein that is involved in processes as diverse as psoriasis, bone health, and cachexia, a wasting disease that affects some individuals who have cancer.


Professor Paolo Sassone-Corsi, who also spoke at the first Gold Medallist Symposium that was held in 2009, was one of the speakers on the second day. Director of the Centre for Epigenetics and Metabolism at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, Professor Sassone-Corsi discussed his work on elucidating the relationship between epigenetics, circadian rhythms and metabolism. One of the major interests of his research group is looking at how the mechanisms of signal transduction are able to modulate nuclear functions and, in particular, gene expression, chromatin remodeling and epigenetic control.


Plant research was also part of the agenda for the symposium. Jiří Friml from the Institute of Science & Technology in Austria received the EMBO Gold Medal in 2012 for defining how the plant hormone auxin functions to regulate plant development. He picked up on this theme in his talk on the third day which described the mechanisms of polarity and patterning that plants use to control plant growth and development.


Other speakers included 1995 Gold Medal winner Professor Richard Treisman from The Francis Crick Institute, who talked about recent progress in understanding the dynamics of the cytoskeleton, specifically changes to G-actin, and the regulation of transcription; 2001 Gold Medallist Professor Matthew Freeman from the University of Oxford, who talked about the control of signalling between cells by rhomboid-like proteins; and the 2014 Gold Medal winner Associate Professor Sophie Martin from the University of Lausanne. Martin has been working for the past 15 years to understand cellular polarity, in particular the way in which the spatial organization of cells contributes to cell size and cell division. Her recent award acknowledged work to understand the molecular events that define the organization and development of the cell.


Presentations by EMBO Gold Medallists were interspersed by talks from former and current EMBO Young Investigators, including A*STAR Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology Research Director Professor Robert Robinson, A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology Senior Principal Investigator Associate Professor Bruno Reversade and A*STAR Singapore Immunology Network Senior Principal Investigator Assistant Professor Florent Ghinoux.


Reversade discussed his work on the discovery of a gene responsible for self-healing of skin cancer which they had recently found in a Tunisian family. “Over five generations, 27 family members have been affected by this gene, leading to the conclusion that such self-healing is hereditary.” His team is trying to understand how and why the gene works since it may provide information on how to tackle other cancers.


The meeting concluded with remarks from LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best. He emphasized that with its research-intensive parent universities from the United Kingdom and Singapore, it is fitting that LKCMedicine provides a bridge between activities in Europe and Singapore and that it is co-sponsor of the EMBO Gold Medallist Symposium. “These past few days, we have been very privileged to hear from some of Europe’s and the world’s outstanding life scientists,” he said. “They shared their discoveries and their passion for science.  While it’s been under the umbrella of molecular biology, I think there’s been great variety in the presentations, some great links between the talks, and considerable insight into disease processes.” 


Promoting scientific exchange


“Our cooperation agreement with Singapore is a great example of what can be achieved to meet the needs of our joint communities.  Indeed it is a role model for the type of successful collaboration that we are trying to spread to other parts of the globe,” remarked Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO speaking at The EMBO Gold Medallist Symposium 2015. The remarks were made in the context of an introductory speech that not only highlighted the international achievements of previous winners of the EMBO Gold Medal but also stressed the importance of international cooperation and scientific exchange in the life sciences. 


EMBO signed a cooperation agreement with Singapore in 2011. The agreement allows Singapore scientists to participate in EMBO training programmes and activities. It also provides support for EMBO workshops and lectures to take place in Singapore. “Cooperation between researchers should not be constrained by national or international borders,” said Leptin. “Science depends on building and nurturing a diverse international community and we want to be global in our outlook. EMBO sees the cross-country cooperation that has allowed it to be successful in Europe as a platform for further international cooperation.” 


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Tilmann KießlingTilmann Kießling
Head, Communications
T. + 49 160 9019 3839