Berlin, 31 May 2017 – The neuroscientist and psychiatrist Prof. Dr. Karl Deisseroth (45) of Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA, is the new recipient of the 4 million euro Else Kröner Fresenius Preis für Medizinische Forschung. It is the most generously-endowed of any medical research prize in the world, and is awarded every four years - this year the prize is dedicated to research into the biological basis of psychiatric dis-orders. The foundation has awarded Prof. Dr. Deisseroth the prize to honour his discoveries in optogenetics and hydrogel-tissue chemistry, as well as his research into the neural circuit basis of depression.
Basis of Psychiatric Disorders
Around 20 percent of the population of Europe and the USA suffer from psychiatric disorders, and the number is increasing - it is an enormous burden for patients, relatives and society as a whole. “With the prize, our hope is to lay the groundwork for breakthroughs in the diagnos-tics and therapy of psychiatric disorders,” said Prof. Dr. Michael Madeja, board member at the EKFS. The awarding of the Else Kröner Fresenius Preis für Medizinische Forschung serves not only to recognise groundbreaking discoveries in the study of the biological basis of psychiatric disorders. It is, to a larger degree, oriented to the future, through its sponsorship of the research Deisseroth will carry out with his team and to which almost 90 percent of the prize money will go.
Depression: the focus of researchers
Cracking the Neural Code - the name of Karl Deisseroth’s laboratory describes perfectly what happens there. Here, the goal is to trace changes in brain structure caused by psychiatric disorders, identify the root causes of these disorders and develop therapies. Together with a team of 35 young scientists of various nationalities and disciplines, the researcher wants to use the EKFS prize money to research depression and depression-like symptoms. “The brain itself is simply fascinating,” said Deisseroth, who, as a neuroscientist, benefits from his ongoing experience as a psychiatrist. Encounters with patients suffering from autism, depression, schizoaffective disorders and anorexia awoke his research interest in neural circuits.
Leading researcher Deisseroth
Deisseroth is described by those who work with him as “brilliant, creative, ambitious and vi-sionary”. He began his scientific career as a professor of bioengineering and psychiatry at Stanford University, and was elected a member of the renowned National Academy of Sci-ences in 2012. In 2014, he became an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and was accepted at the Leopoldina,the National Academy of Sciences in Germany. He was also one of the minds behind the billion dollar U.S. BRAIN Initiative, planned in 2013 by a small group of neuroscientists and the Obama administration. Having pioneered both opto-genetics - a method which allows control of neurons with light - and hydrogel-tissue chemistry - a method which makes the network of nerve cells visible - he has made an essential contribution to the understanding of the biological basis of psychiatric disorders. Since his groundbreaking publications beginning over 10 years ago, his methods have been used in thousands of laboratories worldwide.
An international jury, chaired by Emeritus Professor Peter McGuffin (King’s College London) evaluated all nominations and, after a multistage selection process, unanimously announced the winner.
In 2013, the foundation inaugurated an international research prize, the Else Kröner Fresenius Preis für Medizinische Forschung: Every four years this €4 million prize will be awarded to an outstanding scientist, both to honour his or her achievements in pioneering research and to support their future work in a promising field of medical research. The prize is meant to mark the world-wide importance of the Else Kröner`s life-time achievements.
Every four years, the prize will be awarded in a different field of medical research that promises particular progress in the near future. In June 2014, a workshop including Nobel laureates, editors and postdocs was held at Lindau in order to discuss and identify potential areas of medical research for the 2017 prize. In separate group discussions, there was a strong convergence of opinions on “The biological basis of psychiatric disorders”.
Else Kröner was born as Else Fernau on May 15, 1925 and grew up in the household of Dr. Fresenius, a Frankfurt pharmacist. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Dr. Fresenius had just started reorganizing his business activities when he died suddenly, in February 1946. The community of heirs, which included her, decided that Else Fernau should be trained as a pharmacist, and she took over management of the company after completing her studies in 1951. She was advised in business matters by a consultant, Dr. Hans Kröner, who later became her husband and joined the company as its co-managing director in 1972. Together they laid the foundation of success for the global health care company we know today. Else Kröner was managing director of the company until its conversion into a joint stock company in 1981, and then served as Chairman of the Supervisory Board until she died in June 1988.
The commitment Else Kröner showed in building up the company was matched by her devotion to charitable and humanitarian work. The EKFS, which she established in 1983, became her sole beneficiary upon her death and is the biggest shareholder of Fresenius, as well as the largest foundation of its type in Germany. It is dedicated to promoting medical research and also supports medical-humanitarian aid projects in developing countries.
So far, the Else Kröner Fresenius Stiftung has supported some 1,450 projects with a total of approximately €230 million. Among the beneficiaries are numerous outstanding research projects in all fields of medical research. A special focus is on supporting research careers of young scientists, in particular clinician scientists. Research schools and stipend programmes offering training and research at all career stages have been established.
EKFS medical humanitarian aid projects focus on supporting medical training and education projects and providing immediate care in situations of great need and emergency.