In recognition of her revolutionary achievements in the treatment of neonatal diabetes, Professor Dame Frances Mary Ashcroft of the Institutes of Physiology at the University of Oxford was awarded the "Debrecen Prize for Molecular Medicine" in 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, the British professor conducting research into the physiology of ion channels was only able to accept the award of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen this year from László Csernoch, vice rector for scientific affairs and László Mátyus, dean of UD.

The Debrecen Prize for Molecular Medicine was established in 2003 with the aim of recognizing a research group or expert whose activities have significantly promoted the development of molecular medicine and whose research results have contributed to modern patient care.
The professors of DE ÁOK (Faculty of Medicine, UD) awarded the prize to Dame Frances Mary Ashcroft in 2020, which she was unable to receive due to the pandemic situation, hence the official award-giving ceremony was recently held in the Auditorium of the University of Debrecen.

- The life of the University of Debrecen is not only by the number of employees, but also by the number and quality of researchers recognized by the institution. The award raises the university's way of thinking in biomedical research to an international level; due to the recognized researchers, DE is placed on a very important scientific map. These professionals can get involved in the institution's research and the circulation of scientists. The recognition is an opportunity for cooperation and the continuation of joint research, László Csernoch, vice rector for scientific affairs said at the press conference held on Tuesday on the occasion of the award ceremony.

The award-winners of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Debrecen feature prominent experts such as Craig Venter, the apostle of the study of human genetic material, Ralph Steinman, who - after the Debrecen Prize - was also awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of dendritic cells, considered the conductor of the immune system, and Sir Stephen O'Rahilly, who was awarded in 2014 for the discovery of genetic mechanisms responsible for obesity.

- The condition of the selection is that, through these scientists’ research and demonstrated results, they should produce outstanding scientific achievement for the future of humanity. The professor is changing the lives of tens of thousands of sick children due to her revolutionary discovery. The prize is also important for the faculty, as the university professionals can also profit greatly from it professionally, as they can also use the results of the research during their practical work - said László Mátyus, dean of the Faculty of General Medicine of the University of Debrecen. 

The fact that the researcher achieved a scientific breakthrough in the field of neonatal diabetes research played a role in her being awarded the recognition, and her results are already being used in treatments.

- The importance of the fact that the professor achieved an immediate breakthrough and a visible improvement in the treatment of sick newborns as early as during her research is outstanding. As a result of her research, she found the mutations and changes in proteins that cause children to be born with diabetes. She discovered an alternative treatment method with which significant changes can be achieved in quality of life as well as in the case of complications, said György Panyi, director of the ÁOK Institute of Biophysics and Cell Biology.

Professor Dame Frances Mary Ashcroft’s best-known field of research is the examination of proteins whose abnormal functioning leads to the development of some rare, hereditary forms of diabetes. In the course of his research, she investigated the function of K+ channels among the ion channel proteins found in the cell membrane of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, the so-called beta cells. The regulatory process discovered by her revealed that a type of K+ channel plays a key role in blood sugar regulation. This recognition later led to the clinically important discovery that in a significant number of neonatal diabetic patients the disease is caused by a mutation of the K+ channel that she had investigated, i.e., it is not the production of insulin, but the release of the produced insulin from the cells that is damaged in the disorder. Based on her discovery, about 90 percent of patients with neonatal diabetes switched from insulin injections to oral tablets, and this significantly improved their condition and quality of life. Today, this is an accepted and recommended therapy for the treatment of the disease.

- The award is a great recognition for me; it is an honor that I could be among the award winners of the University of Debrecen, thus becoming a member of excellent company. I won’t be receiving the award alone, but together with my colleagues, with whom we have managed to try to help babies born with diabetes with medication instead injections. Hopefully, in this way, we will be able to slow down the negative processes in the case of the largest number of newborns possible in a short period of time - the Oxford professor emphasized.

Dame Frances Mary Ashcroft received the Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine on Tuesday, March 28, in the Auditorium, after which she gave a presentation on her scientific achievements.

Press center - BZ