2012 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Laureates

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08 November 2011

British Scientist to Receive Global Award at the 14th Annual L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

London, 8 November 2011 – British scientist Professor Frances Ashcroft FRS has been named the 2012 European Laureate in the 14th annual L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

Professor of Physiology and a Fellow of Trinity College at the University of Oxford, Frances Ashcroft is one five exceptional women scientists from around the world, one from each continent, who will be recognised for their contribution to science at an awards ceremony, held at UNESCO in March 2012.

The $100,000 award celebrates the outstanding achievements of women in science and is recognised as one of the premier international science awards. Professor Ashcroft was chosen for advancing our understanding of insulin secretion and of neonatal diabetes.

Professor Ashcroft commented, “This award honours not only myself but also the team of dedicated scientists and collaborators with whom I have worked. I have been enormously fortunate: there is nothing more exciting or more rewarding than discovering something new."

In 1984, Professor Ashcroft discovered the missing link connecting an increase in the blood sugar level (as happens after you eat a chocolate bar) to secretion of the hormone insulin - a protein known as the KATP channel. If this process fails, it leads to diabetes. In subsequent studies, she unravelled how genetic mutations in this protein cause a rare inherited condition, known as neonatal diabetes, in which patients develop diabetes soon after birth. This has enabled many people with neonatal diabetes to switch to a better form of medication.

Professor Gunter Blobel, Nobel Laureate and President of the Jury said “This award is testament to Professor Ashcroft's intellectual achievements and her energy, dedication and passion for her research. The judges were also struck by her commitment to communicating science to the general public. She is an inspirational role model for younger female scientists.”

The theme of the 2012 awards is “Life Sciences” and the Laureates were selected through nominations by an international network of nearly 1,000 members of the international scientific community. Diverse in origin, determined in nature, and extraordinary in intellect, the 2012 Laureates reflect the programme’s mission: change the face of science and support the advancement of women in the scientific field. The Awards Ceremony will take place on 22nd March 2012, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Each Laureate will receive $100,000 in recognition of her contribution to science.

The 2012 Laureates in Life Sciences are:


Professor Frances ASHCROFT
Royal Society Research Professor, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford,
“For advancing our understanding of insulin secretion and of neonatal diabetes.”


Professor Jill FARRANT
Research Chair – Plant Molecular Physiology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town,
“For discovering how plants survive under dry conditions.”


Professor Ingrid SCHEFFER
Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research, University of Melbourne,
“For identifying genes involved in some forms of epilepsy.”


Professor Susana LÓPEZ
Research Chair – Plant Molecular Physiology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town,
“For discovering how plants survive under dry conditions.”


Professor Bonnie BASSLER
Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University,
“For understanding the chemical communication between bacteria and opening new doors for treating infections.”

A Jury Made Up of Eminent Scientists

The 2012 L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards Life Sciences Jury is made up of 18 eminent members of the international scientific community. The President of the jury is Pr. Gunter Blobel, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1999, who has served in this capacity since 2005. Professor Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1974, is the Founding President of the Awards, and Irina Bokova, General Director of UNESCO, is Honorary President.

Professor Blobel said:

“The work of the 2012 Award Laureates yielded remarkable insights into human health issues, such as diabetes, brain seizures, bacterial and viral infections, and extending to the cultivation of plants in arid areas. Their research is truly original and each is among the best in five distinct regions of the world.”

A Pioneering Programme for The Promotion of Women in Science

For the past 14 years, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have supported women researchers throughout the world who contribute to moving science forward. Each year, the For Women in Science Programme highlights scientific excellence and encourages promising talent.

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards have recognised 72 Laureates, exceptional women who have made great advances in scientific research. Two of them have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.

In its aim to promote and encourage women throughout their scientific careers, the For Women in Science partnership has also developed a global network of International, Regional and National Fellowship programs aimed at supporting young women who represent the future of science. To date, Fellowships have been granted to more than 1,200 women in 103 countries, permitting them to pursue their research in institutions at home or abroad. The programme has become a benchmark of scientific excellence on an international scale.

Professor Ashcroft is a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Trinity College Oxford. She is the 3rd British scientist to have been selected for the European continent in the 14 years of the programme's existence. This is a remarkably high number of Laureates from any one country, highlighting how the UK is an excellent incubator of scientific talent.

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