Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute Welcomes Five Nobel Laureates to Symposium on Cancer and Immunology

Posted on: 31 July 2014

Five Nobel Laureates delivered keynote addresses at a medical research symposium showcasing advances in the fight against inflammatory diseases and cancer at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI). The symposium, entitled 'Medical Research at the Cutting Edge' was jointly organised with the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The Nobel Laureates included geneticist James Watson, biologists Aaron Ciechanover and Jules Hoffmann, immunologist Bruce Beutler, and chemist Ada Yonath. 

James Watson won the Nobel Prize (Physiology or Medicine) in 1962 for his part in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, while Aaron Ciechanover won the Prize (Chemistry) in 2004 for discovering how the small protein ‘ubiquitin’ mediates the complex and fundamental process of protein degradation. Jules Hoffmann and Bruce Beutler won the Prize (Physiology or Medicine) in 2011 for their discoveries around the activation of innate immunity, and Ada Yonath was the 2009 laureate (Chemistry) for her work on the structure and function of ribosomes, whose job it is to synthesise proteins in the body.

The five Nobel Laureates spoke about their research in the context of the improvement of human health and the development of new medical advances:

Professor Hoffman talked about how the body rapidly responds to bacterial infection and the genetic factors involved in stimulating this innate immunity. Professor Ciechanover showed how drug developers could use the cellular machinery responsible for protein degradation in order to target specific cells in the body. Professor Yonath’s address demonstrated  how we  use structural blueprints of bacterial machinery to design new drugs effective in keeping bacteria at bay  where many species are rapidly becoming resistant to current antibiotic options.

Also speaking at the symposium was Marc Feldmann, the 2003 winner of the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research and 2014 winner of the Gairdner Prize, for the discovery of anti-TNF therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. Anti-TNF therapy has successfully treated millions of people afflicted by the condition.

The symposium  started on the evening of Sunday, July 27th, with an opening address given by the president of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Mary Daly. There was an official signing of a Memorandum of Understanding about the planned cooperation of Trinity College Dublin and the Weizmann Institute of Science.
The symposium was the joint initiative of Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity and Academic Director of TBSI, Luke O’Neill, and Professor David Wallach of the Weizmann Institute of Science. It will also inaugurate a cooperative project of joint symposia and an exchange of students, who will be able to spend time and work at Trinity and the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

Professor O’Neill said: “TBSI has a policy of promoting close strategic links with other global centres of excellence, and this joint TBSI-Weizmann symposium is the first-ever collaboration between two of the world’s leading research institutes in the field of biomedicine. We are delighted to welcome international experts who are engaged at the cutting edge of medical research into the immunological basis for inflammatory diseases and cancer to TBSI and Trinity.” 

Professor Wallach added: “With chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer posing a major threat to the health of our society, researchers in Ireland and Israel are relentlessly tackling these life-threatening diseases and conditions. I have no doubt that the TBSI-Weizmann symposium will be a model for harnessing advanced biomedicine research for the benefit of mankind.”

Joining researchers from TBSI and the Weizmann Institute at the symposium were researchers and scientists from Ireland and worldwide.

A number of high-profile researchers from TBSI were also speaking at the event. These included Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity, Kingston Mills, who  spoke about research into inflammatory bowel disease, Clinical Professor of Neurology at Trinity, Orla Hardiman, who discussed motor neuron disease in Ireland, and Professor of Chemistry at Trinity, Thorri Gunnlaugsson, who is developing new anti- cancer drugs.

Professor Gunnlaugsson said: “TBSI is fast becoming the leading biomedical research institute in Ireland, and having the opportunity to share our newest and most exciting research results with members of the Weizmann Institute and a panel of distinguished Nobel Laureates is an outstanding opportunity. This symposium was an extremely important platform for showcasing our cutting-edge science, on the back of which we can commence new collaborations with members of one of the world’s leading research institute in biomedical sciences.”

The symposium concluded with a special session on the commercialisation of breakthroughs in biomedicine research. Speakers included Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland and Director of Trinity Research and Innovation, Diarmuid O’Brien, who is responsible for commercialisation of intellectual properties at TBSI.  Mudi Sheves, the Weizmann Institute’s vice president for technology transfer, also spoke about the Institute’s highly successful technology transfer mechanism.