Michel Sadelain
Michel Sadelain

LOS ANGELES: French-Canadian scientist Michel Sadelain was awarded an “Oscars of Science” prize in Los Angeles on Saturday for his research into genetically modifying immune cells to fight cancer.

The genetic engineer was awarded the Break­through Prize at a glitzy ceremony attended by tech giants such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates, and an array of celebrities including Jessica Chastain, Robert Downey Jr. and Bradley Cooper, on Saturday. His work has helped develop a new form of therapy called CAR-T that has shown exceptional efficacy against certain blood cancers.

“This prize is an extraordinary recognition,” Sadelain said on the red carpet at the Oscars Museum. “It’s all the more of an honor because … my scientific colleagues told me for a long time that it would never work.”

Launched in 2010, the Breakthrough Prize awards “the world’s most brilliant minds” in fields including life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics, styling itself as the Silicon Valley-backed answer to the Nobels. Dubbed the “Oscars for Science”, founding sponsors include Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.

Sadelain will split the $3 million prize money with American immunologist Carl June, who also led groundbreaking research into the field independently of his co-winner.

Sadelain developed a way to use a disabled virus to genetically reprogram human T-cells, so that they grew claw-like structures called antigen receptors, allowing the T-cells to target specific cancer cells.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2024

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