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Pfizer Prize 2019: accolades for researchers in Ticino

Media and Communication Service

This evening, at a ceremony held in Zurich, the Pfizer Foundation awarded two prizes to research groups at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and at the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR), both affiliated to Università della Svizzera italiana (USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences).

Dr. Greta Guarda and Dr. Sonia Chelbi of the IRB received a prize for their research in the field of "Infectiology, rheumatology and immunology", which investigates the mechanisms of a protein called RFX7. The two researchers - assisted by Dr. Wilson Castro of the University of Lausanne – have discovered how this protein can act as a brake on the cellular metabolism, thus playing a potential role in the development of certain diseases including tumours. The study was published in Nature Immunology.

Prof. Andrea Alimonti and Dr. Jingjing Chen of the IOR were awarded in the "Oncology" category. Their research work, published in the journal Nature Genetics, has highlighted a number of mechanisms underlying the proliferation of prostate cancer cells, which without the ability to efficiently produce lipids are no longer able to grow and degenerate into metastases (further information on the study at: www.usi.ch/it/feeds/6891).

This double award reveals the vitality and the high-level of scientific research that is conducted in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. For Dr. Guarda, moreover, the prize is of particular significance: originally from Locarno, after studying molecular biology at the University of Zurich, she obtained her PhD at the IRB under the supervision of Federica Sallusto and Antonio Lanzavecchia. Appointed assistant professor at the University of Lausanne, she founded her own independent research group in 2012 with funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation and in 2013 received a prestigious ERC Starting Grant funding from the European Union. Finally, in March last year, she received the offer to return to Bellinzona as Group Leader. 

Commenting on the award, Greta Guarda said: "I am very happy to have contributed to bringing this award to Bellinzona, as I owe a lot to the IRB. In the years spent away from Bellinzona, I have seen how the IRB has grown and how it has consolidated its attractiveness at an international level. Today, Ticino is an established and important reference point on the map of leading scientific research. Bellinzona, as a location, is considered an almost ideal place to do research, thanks to a first-class scientific context, a high quality of life and perfect connections (thanks also to Alp Transit) between two academic centres of the size and importance of Zurich and Milan”.

According to Prof. Alimonti: "The dynamism of Ticino from the scientific point of view is proven by several factors, including the international mobility of the researchers who work here. For example, Dr. Chen, with whom I conducted the study that won the award today, was recently appointed - thanks to our work - Senior research fellow at Harvard University”.

The Pfizer Foundation Research Prize
Awarded annually, since 1992, the Stiftung Pfizer Forschungspreis awards young researchers for their innovative contributions to basic and clinical research at institutes or clinics in Switzerland. With over 5.7 million Swiss francs awarded to over 300 researchers, the prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of medical research in Switzerland. www.pfizerforschungspreis.ch

About Dr. Greta Guarda: www.irb.usi.ch/it/node/1059

About Prof. Andrea Alimonti: http://ior.iosi.ch/site/?facstaff=andrea-alimonti-md

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