Professor Anne Dejean-Assémat, Director of the Nuclear Organization and Oncogenesis Unit at the Pasteur Institute and Inserm, has just been awarded the 2018 Sjöberg Prize, along with Professors Hugues de Thé (Collège de France) and Zhu Chen (Jiao Tong University in Shanghai). This prize, placed under the aegis of the Royal Swedish Academy, was created in 2016 to reward scientists who have made major advances in the field of cancer. The Sjöberg Prize is accompanied by a $1 million endowment to fund the research work of these three eminent researchers.
The Sjöberg Prize was awarded on Tuesday 6 February 2018 to Professors Anne Dejean-Assémat (Institut Pasteur / Inserm), Hugues de Thé (Collège de France) and Zhu Chen (Jiao Tong University in Shanghai) in recognition of their research work on acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL); one of the most aggressive forms of blood cancer.
The Sjöberg Prize, under the auspices of the Royal Swedish Academy, was established in 2016 to reward researchers who have made major discoveries in the field of cancer.
This year's 2018 Sjöberg Prize rewards three researchers who, through nearly 30 years of research at both fundamental and clinical levels, have brought a greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the development and cure of PAB.
It all began in 1980 when Anne Dejean-Assémat, then a thesis student in Pierre Tiollais' laboratory at the Pasteur Institute, succeeded in cloning the integration site of the hepatitis B virus in one of the chromosomes of liver cancer cells, and demonstrated the role of this virus in the development of liver cancer. With Hugues de Thé, who had joined her young team to prepare her thesis, she identified this integration site as that of the retinoic acid receptor, a natural derivative of vitamin A that plays an important role in controlling cell proliferation and differentiation.
In 1990, Anne Dejean-Assémat and Hugues de Thé demonstrated, in collaboration with clinician Laurent Degos, that in the blood cells of PLA patients, the retinoic acid receptor is defective following a translocation between two chromosomes and that the nucleus of leukemic cells is abnormal. Their results, in addition to their fundamental importance, then make it possible to understand why retinoic acid, used in the treatment of LAP by teams of Chinese and French clinicians, is effective against this type of blood cancer because it corrects the molecular and cellular defects of leukemic cells.
Shortly afterwards, Zhu Chen, a Chinese physician and molecular biology researcher, showed that arsenic, frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine, is also effective against PAL and that the combination of the two agents, retinoic acid / arsenic trioxide, acts synergistically in blood cancer cells. This combination increases the healing effectiveness to 90%. Anne Dejean and Hugues de Thé in parallel succeeded in showing that arsenic induces a modification of the defective retinoic acid receptor that leads to its degradation. Thus retinoic acid and arsenic act as two weapons using two different mechanisms to correct the defect responsible for this form of leukaemia.
By combining their efforts and combining basic and clinical research, the three Sjöberg Prize winners have succeeded in elucidating the oncogenic mechanism of PAL and developing an innovative treatment for one of the most deadly forms of leukaemia.
This new treatment, based on a retinoic acid/arsenic trioxide combination, causes the degradation of the oncogene at the source of the cancer and is a revolutionary treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia.
As Anne Dejean explains, " This award is a prestigious recognition of our research work that has contributed to advancing knowledge, both at the molecular and cellular level, of a particularly severe form of leukemia and its treatment. This work now offers hope for the development of new therapies based on similar approaches for other forms of cancer. I am very honoured to receive this prize, and happy to be able to share it with my former colleagues, and to be part of this list of eminent researchers who have been awarded the Sjöberg Prize. "
Anne Dejean-Assémat was born in Cholet, in the Department of Maine-et-Loire. She is the mother of three children. She holds a doctoral thesis in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Paris VI. She joined the Institut Pasteur in 1980 to complete her thesis in the laboratory of Pierre Tiollais. In 1985, she was recruited as a Research Fellow at Inserm. She was promoted to Director of Research of exceptional class in 2009 and appointed Professor at the Institut Pasteur in 2010.
Anne Dejean-Assémat has been head of the Institut Pasteur "Nuclear Organization and Oncogenesis"/Inserm U993 Research Unit since 2003. She is the author of more than 160 scientific publications in the best international peer-reviewed journals. Her work on the mechanisms of oncogenesis is internationally recognized and has been awarded numerous prizes.
Anne Dejean-Assémat is a member of the Academy of Sciences and many other national and international learned societies.
The Sjöberg Prize
The Sjöberg Prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy and financed by the Sjöberg Foundation. The foundation was established in 2016 by entrepreneur Bengt Sjöberg, who donated almost 200 million euros (SEK 2 billion) to promote and support research work in the fields of cancer, health and the environment.