Double Award: Berlin Science Prize for two Charité researchers

Drosten and Governing Mayor Müller © Lars Hübner / Photographer

The virologist Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has received the Berlin Science Award 2020 from the governing mayor. The science award of the state of Berlin, which carries the highest prize money of 40,000 euros, honors outstanding research achievements that originated in the capital. The Young Investigator Award also went to a Charité researcher, the pediatric oncologist Dr. Anton Henssen. The Young Investigator Award comes with 10,000 euros and recognizes a particularly innovative research approach in a Berlin field of the future. The award ceremony of the 13th Berlin Science Prize had been postponed due to the pandemic and was made up for yesterday evening as part of the exhibition on Knowledge City Berlin 2021.

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According to the jury’s statement, Prof. Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at Charité, is being honored for his outstanding research work on epidemic lung infections and his major contribution to pandemic prevention and international health security. In addition, he said, Prof. Drosten’s work has contributed greatly to the visibility of Berlin as a center of innovation and he has rendered outstanding services to the communication of scientific findings to society. On the occasion of the tribute, Prof. Drosten said, „I am very pleased to receive this Berlin award. I only came to the city with my team in 2017 and we all felt welcome in this excellent research environment right from the start. Without Charité’s commitment and involvement in the scientific community, our contribution to fighting the pandemic would not have been possible either.“

Dr. Henssen conducts research at the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC), a joint institution of Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), and works as a physician at the Department of Pediatrics with a focus on oncology and hematology at Charité. He receives the Young Investigator Award 2020 for his pioneering research, which significantly contributes to understanding new mechanisms in the development of childhood tumors and could thus enable new approaches in diagnosis and therapy. According to the jury, his work fits perfectly into the scientific environment of the capital region and is an excellent example of the impact of application-oriented research. Commenting on the honor of his work with the Young Investigator Award, Dr. Henssen said, „I am delighted and very grateful for the award. Even though I receive this prize, the award goes to a team of international cooperation partners. Because without such teamwork, the research conducted by my lab would not have been possible.“

Henssen and Governing Mayor Müller © Lars Hübner / Photographer

Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries, Dean of the Charité, expressed his delight at the recognition: „I am proud that the Charité is the research home of no less than two impressive scientists who have now rightly been honored for their outstanding work. Both are doing great things in their field and I congratulate them very warmly on behalf of the entire Charité Board of Directors for this success. Christian Drosten’s enormous scientific and communicative commitment over the past year has been instrumental in enabling many people in Germany, and also us here at Charité, to make scientifically sound decisions in dealing with the pandemic. And even though his performance as a researcher is particularly evident in these times: it clearly convinced us back in 2017, when we were able to appoint Christian Drosten to the Charité.“

Commenting on the young investigator award winner, Prof. Pries added: „In his young career, Anton Henssen has managed to investigate a previously unexplained phenomenon of childhood cancers, which has been observed for decades, from a new perspective using very innovative methods. His findings on the role of small DNA rings provide evidence for a completely new genetic mechanism of cancer development. They are not only promising for cancer research, but may also represent a new starting point for cancer therapy in the future.“

The Berlin Science Prize has been awarded annually by the Governing Mayor of Berlin since 2008. Berlin’s universities, Berlin-based non-university research institutions and their sponsors, as well as the members of the Senate responsible for science and research, are eligible to nominate candidates. For the main prize, prize money of 40,000 euros is awarded to the institution at which the scientific achievement was made. For the Young Scientists Award, the prize money of 10,000 euros goes directly to the award recipients themselves. The Berlin Science Award is intended to provide targeted support for outstanding achievements in science and research that have been made in Berlin. A central concern is to create a basis for the further economic development of Berlin. For this reason, in addition to scientific excellence, the possibility of practical implementation of the research is also a decisive criterion.

Short vita Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten

Christian Drosten studied medicine in Frankfurt am Main. After receiving his doctorate in medicine in 2003, he headed a research group at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg before being appointed head of the Institute of Virology at the University Hospital Bonn in 2007. Since 2017, the specialist in microbiology, virology and infectious disease epidemiology has been director of the Institute of Virology at Charité. He heads the Virology Department at Labor Berlin – Charité Vivantes GmbH as well as the working group „Virus Detection and Pandemic Prevention“ at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). He is spokesman of the National Research Network Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and scientific director of the interdisciplinary center Charité Global Health. Prof. Drosten has received many awards for his contributions to communication in the COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2020, he was honored with the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class for the development of a detection test for SARS-CoV-2. He had already received the Federal Cross of Merit with Ribbon in 2005 for the identification of the original SARS coronavirus and the development of the first diagnostic test.

Short vita Privatdozent Dr. Anton G. Henssen

Anton George Henssen studied medicine in Düsseldorf before receiving neuroscience training at the Jülich Research Center and earning his doctorate in medicine at RWTH Aachen University in 2013. As a resident at the University Hospital Essen, he then dealt in depth with childhood tumors for the first time. During a research stay in the USA at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York (2013 to 2016), he specialized in DNA sequencing of childhood tumors. Since then, he has been working as a physician at the Department of Pediatrics with a focus on Hematology and Oncology at Charité. A grant from the Clinician Scientist Program of the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and Charité enabled him to pursue his research in parallel. Since the end of 2018, the physician has been leading the Emmy Noether Junior Research Group „Genomic Instability in Childhood Tumors“ at the ECRC, which is also a visiting group at the MDC. Since 2020, his research has been funded by the European Research Council (ERC) within the framework of a Starting Grant with approximately 1.5 million euros. Dr. Henssen is a scientific member of the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK) at the Berlin site. The specialist in pediatric and adolescent medicine has received several awards for his research achievements, including the Hector Foundation Research Prize in 2018 and the Kind-Philipp Foundation Prize for Pediatric Oncology Research in 2021.

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