Award for Molecular Medicine

The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen has awarded molecular biologist Alexander Varshavsky the Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine this year. Professor Varshavsky, who lives and works in the United States, owes his international fame chiefly to the discovery of protein degradation processes realized through the so-called ubiquitin system. This year’s awardee received the recognition on Tuesday at a ceremony held in the Aula [University Hall] venue of the Main Building, where he also delivered a lecture on his scientific achievements.

The Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine was founded almost twenty years ago, in 2003. This recognition is routinely given to researchers or research groups whose work has significantly contributed to the development of molecular medicine, and whose findings can be used effectively in modern patient care.  

“From the aspect of the international recognition of our university, it is decisive who the specialists are whose activities the institution appreciates and awards because their personality also “qualifies” the University of Debrecen. This is exactly why the basic approach of the Faculty of Medicine and of the university is to recognize the work of internationally notable researchers who are also regarded “key players” in the international world of science,” said László Csernoch, Vice Rector for Scientific Affairs of UD, at the press conference held before the awarding ceremony.  

The list of former awardees chosen annually by the professors of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen, contains outstanding representatives in the field of life sciences, such as Craig Venter, the “apostle” of studying human genetic material, Ralph Steinman, who became a Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of dendritic cells, considered to be the “conductor” of the immune system, after he had received the Debrecen Prize, and Sir Stephen O’Rahilly in 2014, who had explored the genetic mechanisms responsible for obesity.

“The issue of awarding this prize is extremely important for our faculty as it creates an opportunity to invite the world’s leading researchers in order to build new scientific relations with them. Without exception, the awardees are internationally recognized professionals, including some who then later receive a Nobel Prize. Following the recommendations and nominations from faculty members and previous awardees, a committee usually examines the proposals and then the professorial body decides on the winner by secret ballot. This year’s result is unique because it was the 2017 laureate, Franz-Ulrich Hartl, who nominated Professor Alexander Varshavsky,” said László Mátyus, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen.

The recipient of the Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine this year is Professor Alexander J. Varshavsky, a molecular biologist and biochemist, who is the leader of his research group at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The focus of his research activities is the controlled breakdown of proteins responsible for the properties of cells, dubbed Ubiquitin Mediated (or Ubiquitin-Dependent) Proteolysis.

“Professor Varshavsky’s academic achievements contribute to the correct interpretation of aging, cancer, neurodegenerative syndromes, immunological disorders, congenital diseases and a lot of other illnesses, as well as to the development of their novel and effective treatments. Alexander Varshavsky’s efforts and activities can be rightly regarded as an inspiration and example for all of us,” said Zoltán Papp, Vice Dean for Scientific Affairs of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen.  

While Professor Varshavsky has developed a range of new biochemical and genetic laboratory methods, he also holds as many as 17 patents. He regularly publishes his findings in top-quality scientific journals, which are recognized worldwide. 

“The award from the University of Debrecen is indeed an honor, and means very much to me. The activities of previous awardees represent a high level of quality in this field of science, and this makes the recognition genuinely prestigious,” said Alexander Varshavsky. 

Franz-Ulrich Hartl, the nominator and the 2017 prizewinner, said at the press conference that he had been familiar with and admired the work of Alexander Varshavsky for years for achieving outstanding results in the field of cell biology and molecular biology.

Professor Varshavsky was awarded the Debrecen Prize for Molecular Medicine at a ceremony held in the hall called Aula of the University of Debrecen on Tuesday, following which he delivered a talk on his scientific activities and achievements. 

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