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Doctors Hershko and LeDoux are awarded the 2009 Santiago Grisolía Chair Prizes


Each year these awards recognise the work of two researchers in the fields of Biomedicine and Neuroscience

Doctors Avram Hershko, the Nobel prizewinner for Chemistry in 2004 and a distinguished professor at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine of the Technio-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, and Joseph E. LeDoux of the Neural Science Centre of the Psychology Department of New York University and the director of the Emotional Brain Institute, have been awarded the 2009 Santiago Grisolía Chair Prizes which have been organised by the said Chair of the Foundation of the City of Arts and Sciences.

Each prizewinner will teach three Master Classes in the Science Museum on the studies which have made him a worthy winner of these awards. From 4th to 6th May, Doctor Avram Hershko will give a course on “The ubiquitin system and the degradation of cellular proteins”, while Doctor Joseph E. LeDoux will give one on “The emotional brain”.

Doctor Hershko’s work concentrates on the study of the degradation mechanisms of cellular proteins and on how this degradation can modulate important cellular processes. He discovered the mechanism that cells use to eliminate altered or undesirable proteins. His research has also shed light on how a series of cellular proteins are controlled to specifically destroy certain proteins and not others. For this important contribution in which he described the whole biochemical-enzymatic process of this selection and marking of proteins, he was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Chemistry together with Doctors Aaron Ciechanover and Irwin Rose.

As a result of this discovery it has been found that in various pathologies this marking-degradation process fails in the case of proteins. For example, this occurs in some types of cancer, cystic fibrosis, or Alzheimer’s disease. New therapeutic processes are being studied for these scenarios, based on the modulation of the protein degradation system.

For his part, Doctor LeDoux studies how the brain shapes the memory of the most significant events of our lives. His work concentrates particularly on how memories of traumatic events are shaped, stored, and remembered. His research is based on the study of the neural system responsible for implicit emotional memories (the body reacts in a special way to unconscious ones as a result of past experiences).

Using animal models, Doctor LeDoux’s team has contributed towards the drawing up of a map showing how the fear system works in the brain. They have shown that learning and the response to stimuli that alert us to danger involves neural channels that send the information on the outside world to the tonsil, which determines the importance of this stimulus and triggers emotional responses, such as keeping still or running away, and also modifies the internal operation of body organs and glands.

Many of the most common psychiatric disorders in humans are emotional malfunctions related to fear: anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias, panic attacks, and post traumatic stress. Studies on the basic mechanisms of the fear system give us information on the origin of our emotions and on what is not operating correctly in the case of emotional disorders. This knowledge may help to design improved procedures for treating or preventing these disorders.

The Santiago Grisolía Chair awards these prizes every year to two truly outstanding workers on an international level in the field of scientific research, in particular in Biomedicine and Neuroscience. Work combining a high scientific level and great social interest is the most prized.

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