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Louisa Hill wins the Rabitsch Award 2021

08 Oct 2021

Every autumn since 2006, the Kirsten Peter Rabitsch Award recognises the outstanding achievements of a PhD student at the IMP or at IMBA. This year, the Rabitsch Award goes to Louisa Hill, a PhD graduate from the lab of Meinrad Busslinger who defended her thesis in January. Her work in developmental immunology has made extraordinary contributions to the field. 

“The goal of my project was to understand how immunoglobulin gene segments that are spread out in the genome come together within the nucleus of a developing B cell to undergo recombination, thereby generating an immunoglobulin or antibody gene,” Louisa Hill, Rabitsch Award laureate of 2021, explains. “The entire genome structure of developing B cells goes through massive changes to allow the generation of a diverse antibody repertoire.” 

When our body is confronted with an intruder, a bacterium or virus, it has several lines of defence to counter the invasion. B cells are a main pillar of our immune system and provide potent weapons to fight off infections. They develop in the bone marrow and later circulate in the blood stream, where they release a host of immunoglobulins that help us detect and eliminate pathogens. 

The locus that holds immunoglobulin genes is very long, and for recombination to happen, distant genes must be brought together to the recombination centre. Louisa discovered that cohesin must reel DNA into very long loops in a process called ‘loop extrusion’ to bring distant genes together. She unveiled the molecular mechanisms that allow these unusually long loops to form, and published her findings in the journal Nature in 2020. 

“Attending the award ceremony every year makes you want to be part of this group of fantastic scientists. It’s a great honour to receive the Rabitsch Award this year,” Louisa says. “My supervisor and I were very happy and proud of this accomplishment.” 

After this very successful PhD, Louisa is taking some time off to take care of her other recent accomplishment, a new-born daughter. She will then pursue a postdoctoral position to continue investigating the development of the immune system.  

The Rabitsch Award, worth 2,000 Euro, was established in honour of a promising PhD student in Kim Nasmyth’s lab at the IMP who passed away under tragic circumstances during his time at the institute. 

Further reading 

The Kirsten Peter Rabitsch Award 

How the immune system generates a vast antibody repertoire to fight infections