Peter Hegemann from Humboldt University of Berlin has won the 2021 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, widely regarded as America’s top biomedical research prize. He will share the prize with Dieter Oesterhelt from Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Karl Deisseroth from Stanford University.
The Award honors a fundamental discovery that opens up a new area of biomedical science. The three scientists discovered light-sensitive microbial proteins called opsins, and harnessed their properties. They developed a technology that enables researchers to control brain-cell activity by using light beams to trigger ion flow into and out of neurons.
The work of Professors Hegemann, Deisseroth and Oesterhelt has advanced technologies for probing brain function and opened pathways for the better understanding of neurodegenerative disease and mental illnesses.
As a result, scientists can now study neurons and their circuitry with stunning clarity and probe their functional underpinnings with unprecedented resolution. Hundreds of laboratories around the world are now applying optogenetics to tease apart adaptive and maladaptive behaviors, such as hunger, thirst, anxiety, and parenting.
Lasker Award winners receive $250,000 per category. Apart from Peter Hegemann, until now two ERC grantees have won this award: Peter J. Ratcliffe in 2016 and Michael N. Hall in 2017.
About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.
The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council, and the ERC President. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon was President on an interim basis from 27 July 2020 until 31 August 2021. Maria Leptin will take office this autumn (1 November 2021). Until then, the ERC Vice-Presidents are in charge: Eveline Crone (Social Sciences and Humanities), Andrzej Jajszczyk (Physical sciences and Engineering) and Nektarios Tavernarakis (Life Sciences). The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.