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Gutenberg Research Award 2016 goes to cell death researcher Vishva Dixit

May 03, 2016

The Gutenberg Research College (GRC) of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has chosen to give the 2016 Gutenberg Research Award to American biomedical researcher Dr. Vishva Dixit for his groundbreaking work in the field of programmed cell death. His findings have contributed significantly to the understanding of the actual mechanisms involved in the crucial process that is also known as apoptosis. At the same time, Dixit is also helping to convert the information obtained into a form that can be employed in clinical applications.

"In the person of Dr. Vishva Dixit, the Gutenberg Research College is bestowing the Gutenberg Research Award on an internationally acclaimed top-level researcher. His groundbreaking findings on cell death have provided important clues that help us understand in much more detail the processes associated with the immune system," emphasized the Director of the Gutenberg Research College, Professor Matthias Neubert.

Programmed cell death is actually a genetically predetermined mechanism that takes more or less the same form in almost all multi-cellular organisms. The 'death program' called apoptosis is common to all cells throughout the body. The process is indispensible because it causes the elimination of damaged or superfluous cells and is thus vital for the development of living beings. This programmed cell death enables the body to maintain a state of equilibrium known as cellular homeostasis.

If the genetically controlled death program is in any way defective, this can have serious consequences and can result, for example, in the promotion of tumor growth and neurodegenerative disorders. "With this in view, the unique importance of Dr. Dixit's work becomes apparent. Dixit and his team laid the foundations for decoding the mechanisms underlying programmed cell death in the early 1990s. He is thus one of the trailblazers in this field of fundamental research who has contributed towards putting in place the prerequisites for the development of new therapies to treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's," explained Professor Ulrich Förstermann, Chief Medical Officer of the Mainz University Medical Center.

In the early 1990s, Dixit was not only able to identify the molecular components of the cell death signal pathways, such as the so-called caspases, i.e., enzymes involved in the initiation and implementation of cell death, but was also able to uncover the mechanisms that underlie this fundamental cellular process. He has produced innovative insights into the association between inflammatory diseases and the immune system, demonstrating the existence of a multiprotein complex called inflammasome that enables the body's own immune system to battle infection.

He has made further cutting-edge findings regarding the role played by the ubiquitination and deubiquitination of proteins in the development of cancer. In this context, he was able to show which molecular processes are involved in ubiquitin-based signal transductions in cells and their relevance to carcinogenic processes, inflammatory reactions, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes.

In addition to his academic career, he contributes his extensive expertise as a top specialist in cell death research to the US biotech company Genentech. The company was one of the first biotech companies established in 1976. Besides being a member of Genentech's Board of Directors, he is still very active as a researcher and continues to publish articles in the leading journals in his field. His work is frequently cited by other scientists and can also be found in textbooks.

Dixit has collaborated with universities and research groups throughout the Rhine-Main region in the investigation of cellular signal transduction. He wants to extend and augment this cooperation in the future.

Dr. Vishva Dixit studied medicine at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. During his professional career, he has worked as a professor at the Department of Pathology of the eminent Medical School of the University of Michigan. Since 1997, he has held various posts at Genentech based in South San Francisco, originally as Director and then Senior Director of Molecular Oncology and now as a member of the Board of Directors. At Genentech he is currently the Vice President of Early Detection Research and is in charge of its postdoctoral program.
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Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

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