The immunologist Andrea Ablasser receives the Latsis Prize 2018

The immunologist Andrea Ablasser is awarded the National Latsis Prize 2018 at a ceremony held in the Rathaus in Bern.

In recognition of her pioneering work on the innate immune system, Andrea Ablasser has been awarded the National Latsis Prize 2018. The 35-year-old immunologist has been a tenure-track assistant professor at EPF Lausanne since 2014. And she has twice been granted SNSF funding in her career so far. The National Latsis Prize is awarded every year by the SNSF on behalf of the Latsis Foundation in Geneva. The award ceremony took place on 10 January 2019 at the Rathaus in Bern in the presence of many previous laureates.

"Andrea Ablasser has translated research into practice by finding a molecule that can perhaps be used one day to treat autoimmune diseases," said Matthias Egger, president of the SNSF Research Council. And the president of the Latsis Foundation, Denis Duboule, stressed that this could not have been achieved without basic research: "This discovery is the result of hard work by a small research group."

Martina Hirayama, State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation, acknowledged how courageous Ablasser had been to pursue basic research: "She had the audacity to delve into an uncertain research topic." Jürg Fröhlich, physicist and recipient of the first National Latsis Prize in 1984 also called for more research without fixed goals: "You should see the prize as a licence to take a step back and reflect in peace, before diving into a daring research project - irrespective of the high risk of failure."

Ablasser was no stranger to risk-taking, her superior Gisou van der Goot, dean of the School of Life Sciences at EPF Lausanne, pointed out: "Andrea Ablasser almost became a professional skier. Luckily we were able to win her round to becoming a scientist." A view shared by Christophe Neuhaus, the president of the Bern Governing Council, who praised Andrea Ablasser as "a role model for young women, who are still underrepresented among professors in Switzerland."

Ablasser explained in her presentation how the signal pathway she investigated makes it possible for cells in the human body to detect a large variety of pathogens, e.g. viruses such as HIV, or bacteria such as the germs that cause tuberculosis. She added that this part of the immune system even played a role in Parkinson's disease and in heart attacks. "We hope we can realise this potential in practice and are working together with a pharmaceuticals company to achieve this," Ablasser said.

The National Latsis Prize is one of the most prestigious academic awards in Switzerland, honouring outstanding achievements by researchers up to the age of forty who work in Switzerland.