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Meinrad Busslinger receives Wittgenstein Prize

27 Jun 2001

For the third time today, the most prestigious Austrian prize for science is awarded to an IMP scientist. The prize winner, Swiss-born Meinrad Busslinger, receives the award, worth 15 million Schillings (EUR 1.09 million), from Elisabeth Gehrer, the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Culture. He is honoured for his research in the field of haematopoiesis.

Specialized blood cells, such as the B-cells that produce antibodies and thus constitute an important part of the immune system, are formed continuously in the bone marrow from non-specialized haematopoietic stem cells. Since all other cell types of the blood are derived from the same precursors, there must be factors which commit the cells to their respective path-ways. Meinrad Busslinger and his team have now succeeded in identifying the factor which causes a stem cell to develop into a B-cell. It is the transcription factor Pax5 which, as was shown in experiments, switches on B-cell-specific genes while at the same time shutting down genes which are normally active in other blood cells.

Busslinger's discoveries have led to new insights into the fundamental differentiation process of cells and are therefore also important from a medical point of view. The team is currently investigating whether this new concept is generally applicable to the development of other organs such as the midbrain and kidney.

Meinrad Busslinger has been a Senior Scientist at the IMP since 1988. He studied natural sciences at the ETH Zurich and obtained his doctorate under Professor Max Birnstiel at the University of Zurich. Some of the award-winning work was carried out in collaboration with Antonius Rolink from the former Basel Institute of Immunology. 

The Wittgenstein Prize is the most highly respected award for top scientists from all disciplines in Austria. It is awarded annually by the Austrian Research Foundation (FWF) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture. The prize-winner is selected by an international jury. The money is paid out over a period of five years and is to be used solely for research purposes. The Prize is awarded for the sixth time this year. This is an exceptional success story for the IMP. After Erwin Wagner (1996) and Kim Nasmyth (1999), Meinrad Busslinger is now the third IMP scientist to be awarded this prestigious prize.

Photo: Meinrad Busslinger (right) with FWF President Arnold Schmidt and Science Minister Elisabeth Gehrer (Copyright: Petra Spiola)