Each year, the Biochemical Society presents a series of prestigious awards that recognize excellence and achievement in both specific and general fields of science. Candidates are nominated by their peers and the winners are agreed by a judging panel of respected scientists from across a range of different scientific backgrounds.
The work and contribution of 14 eminent bioscientists, outstanding teams and exceptional early-career researchers have been acknowledged in the 2024 Biochemical Society Awards. Each recipient has been recognized for excellence in their field, ranging from CRISPR genetic approaches and epigenetic modification to neuroimaging and mitochondrial biology. All of the 2024 winners will receive their prize and deliver an Award Lecture in 2024.
Colin Bingle, Professor of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Sheffield and Chair of the Biochemical Society’s Awards Committee, says:
“My personal congratulations to all of the 2024 Biochemical Society Award winners. Every year, the Awards Committee is presented with the difficult task of selecting nominees from an impressive group of candidates and this year was no exception. With the addition of several new award categories to present in 2024, the chosen recipients represent a cross-section of the outstanding work taking place in our community, across a range of career stages. It is also incredibly heartening to see further recognition for teams and technicians, whose support is essential to all research. They should all be incredibly proud of their achievements. Well done to them all.”
The Biochemical Society Award – Significant Breakthrough or Achievement: Professor Paul Lehner
The 2024 Biochemical Society Award – Significant Breakthrough or Achievement will be presented to Professor Paul Lehner (University of Cambridge). Paul’s work sits at the interface between immunology, virology and cell biology and he applies genetic and proteomic technologies to study viral interactions with the immune system. Prominent among these are his discoveries of novel pathways of viral evasion, his application of unbiased quantitative proteomics to understand how viruses remodel the infected cell and his identification of epigenetic pathways for silencing DNA.
He discovered and characterized the human silencing hub (HUSH), an epigenetic transcriptional repressor complex which silences DNA that has invaded the vertebrate genome. HUSH defends the host genome from first-line attack by silencing invading elements, including retroviruses and mobile endogenous retrotransposons, e.g., LINE1 elements. He showed how HUSH has a remarkable ability to distinguish ‘self’ from ‘non-self’ DNA in the genome, a cellular compartment not thought to be visible to the immune system. This discrimination of ‘self’ from ‘non-self’ genomic DNA occurs through the recognition of ‘intronless’ cDNA, the hallmark of reverse transcription. The key function of HUSH is therefore to protect the genome from the reverse flow of genetic information, i.e., RNA to DNA. Paul’s work has revealed an unanticipated transcription-dependent mechanism of genome immune surveillance, a novel function for cellular introns as well as a new arm of the innate immune system.
Paul said: “It is a great honour to be the recipient of this Biochemical Society Award. It recognises the achievements of so many talented people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with in the lab – who together have made this award possible. I am also grateful to my mentors as well as the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and Lister Institute for their generous support of our work.”
The Biochemical Society Award – Sustained Excellence: Professor Joanna Wardlaw
The 2024 Biochemical Society Award – Sustained Excellence will be presented to Professor Joanna Wardlaw (University of Edinburgh). Joanna, CBE, MD, FRSE, FMedSci, is Professor of Applied Neuroimaging at the University of Edinburgh, Foundation Chair in the UK Dementia Research Institute, and Consultant Neuroradiologist for NHS Lothian. Her work focuses on understanding the brain and its blood supply and on treatments to improve blood flow to the brain, including thrombolytic drugs that are now in routine use to treat stroke, and more recently on treatments for small vessel disease and dementia. Working with many colleagues, she has been instrumental in advancing understanding of the causes of cerebral small vessel disease and is now testing promising treatments in clinical trials. She has set up national research imaging facilities, co-ordinated international research networks, advanced stroke care worldwide and published over 1000 papers. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences, she was awarded the American Heart Association’s Feinberg Award for Clinical Advances in Stroke in 2018, the European Stroke Organisation President’s Award (2017), the Karolinska Stroke Award (2018) and the British Neuroscience Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience (2021) and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Medicine and Neuroscience in 2016.
Joanna said: “It is a huge honour to have been recognised by The Biochemical Society with the Sustained Excellence Award 2024. I feel deeply humbled, since my work is highly collaborative and depends on the contributions of many others, and grateful for the attention that this award will bring to our efforts to improve the lives of people affected by brain blood vessel diseases.”
The Centenary Award: Professor Gideon Davies
The 2024 Centenary Award will be presented to Professor Gideon Davies (University of York). Gideon obtained his PhD from Bristol in 1990 before moving to the EMBL Hamburg. He moved to York, with visits to Grenoble and Uppsala before taking up a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) in 1996. In 2000, he was the inaugural ‘Peter Wall Catalytic Visitor’ at the University of British Columbia before being made a full professor of the University of York in 2001. In 2016, he received the Royal Society ‘Ken Murray’ Research Professorship. His research work spans chemistry and biology with a focus on the enzymes that synthesize and degrade carbohydrates and glycans. He is well known for his work on enzyme mechanism, following the unusual contortions of sugars in enzyme active sites and building on this to develop inhibitors and more recently activity-based probes. Recent impact includes the development of inhibitor classes that underpinned the development of compounds in clinical trial for neurodegeneration, studies of the human heparanase enzyme and development of new anti-cancer compounds, as well as applying activity probes and new chemistries in the field of industrial biomass conversion.
Gideon said: “It is especially important to me that this award, beyond research impact, also reflects a commitment to nurture talent within the scientific community. I am so proud of the wonderful, diverse, group of young and early-career scientists I have worked with throughout my career and to see them thriving in academia, industry, education, and child support is the true highlight of my career. I hope the award will inspire other young scientists, from all backgrounds, to dive into the exciting world of the glycosciences.”
The Colworth Medal: Dr Thi Hoang Duong (Kelly) Nguyen
The 2024 Colworth Medal will be awarded to Dr Thi Hoang Duong (Kelly) Nguyen (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology). Kelly completed her bachelor at the Australian National University and PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) with Dr Kiyoshi Nagai. During her PhD, she used X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM to study the mechanism of the spliceosome, a large protein–RNA complex involved in premature mRNA splicing. Her work led to important insights into the structures of large spliceosome components and the activation of the spliceosome. She began her telomere and telomerase research during her time as a Miller Research Fellow in the laboratories of Professors Kathleen Collins and Eva Nogales at the University of California, Berkeley. Telomeres protect the chromosome ends and thus are essential for genome stability. Her postdoctoral work unveiled the first cryo-EM structure of human telomerase, the enzyme which replenishes telomeres to compensate for the telomere loss during genome replication. As an independent investigator at the MRC-LMB, her laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms of telomere maintenance using a combination of biochemistry, structural biology at different spatial scales and in vivo functional studies. The mechanistic insights gained from this research will shed light into how telomere dysfunction gives rise to human diseases such as cancers and aging.
Kelly said: “I am very delighted to receive The Colworth Medal from the Biochemical Society. I would like to share the honour with all the past and present laboratory members, mentors, colleagues, and collaborators, who have all made essential contributions every step of this journey. I would also want to highlight the stimulating and supportive environment at MRC-LMB that has greatly shaped my scientific approaches. Being recognized in this way is very encouraging for my laboratory and will motivate us to continue tackling challenging problems and making exciting discoveries.”
Early Career Research Award: Dr Mattie Pawlowic
One of two 2024 Early Career Research Awards will be presented to Dr Mattie Pawlowic (University of Dundee). Mattie earned her undergraduate degree and PhD from Texas Tech University working in the laboratory of Kai Zhang. She then joined Boris Striepen’s lab, then at the University of Georgia, for her postdoctoral work. She was part of a team that developed CRISPR for Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium is a protozoa that is a leading cause of diarrheal disease in malnourished children. There is no vaccine and no effective treatment, and very little of the basic biology is understood. In 2017, Dr Pawlowic joined the University of Dundee as a PI and Sir Henry Dale Fellow. Her group studies how Cryptosporidium parasites are transmitted using genetic and biochemical approaches. The lab also collaborates with drug discovery scientists to advance emerging therapeutics. Dr Pawlowic also co-founded SPPIRIT, a network to connect parasitology researchers across Scotland and support career development for ECRs.
Mattie said: “I am really honoured and thrilled to receive this award. I would like to thank the group at Dundee who nominated me for this award, my lab for their hard work, and my collaborators for their support of my growing group. This award will allow me to attend a Biochemical Society meeting and share our group’s work, as well as be mentored by an Associate Editor. These experiences will greatly support me and my lab group.”
Early Career Research Award: Dr Benjamin Schumann
One of two 2024 Early Career Research Awards will be presented to Dr Benjamin Schumann (the Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London). Ben studied biochemistry at the University of Tübingen. Interested in chemical tools to further biology, he performed his doctoral work in carbohydrate chemistry with Peter H. Seeberger at the Max Planck Institute Potsdam and the FU Berlin. He developed vaccines against pathogenic bacteria based on synthetic glycans, learning to apply his compounds in vivo and in vitro and receiving the Award for Excellence in Glycosciences as well as the Otto Hahn Medal by the Max Planck Society. During his postdoctoral work in the lab of Carolyn R. Bertozzi at Stanford University as an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellow, Ben developed an interest for bioorthogonal tools to study glycosylation of human cells in great detail. He started as a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London in 2018 to develop the so-called chemical ‘precision tools’ to investigate individual glycosyltransferase enzymes, using a combination of chemoenzymatic synthesis, molecular cell biology and glycoproteomics. The lab was part of a large international team that received the 2021 Rita and John Cornforth RSC Horizon Prize in Chemical Biology. Ben is an EMBO Young Investigator and received an ERC Starting Grant in 2023, now covered by the UKRI Guarantee scheme.
Ben said: “I am extremely grateful to be receiving this award which is a testament to my group’s hard work. The Biochemical Society provides an outstanding platform to forge connections, allowing us to establish our chemical ‘precision tools’ in modern quantitative biology.”
The GlaxoSmithKline Award: Professor Ellie Tzima
The 2024 GlaxoSmithKline Award will be awarded to Professor Ellie Tzima (University of Oxford). Ellie has been a Wellcome Senior Fellow in Biomedical Sciences and Professor of Cardiovascular Science at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine and the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford since 2015. Ellie was Assistant and Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2005 to 2015. Ellie was an AHA-postdoctoral fellow in Martin Schwartz’s laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla) from 2000 to 2004, working on endothelial mechanotransduction, and a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow in Paul Schimmel’s laboratory investigating cell signalling activities of aminoacyl tRNA-synthetases. Ellie has been funded by major grants from the NIH, Wellcome, BHF and MRC, served as Director of Graduate Studies and was on the Editorial Board of Circulation Research and ATVB. She was a recipient of an American Heart Association Established Investigator Award, Ellison Medical Foundation Scholar in Aging and a member of several grant panel reviewing committees.
Together with a talented and enthusiastic team of students and postdocs, Ellie investigates how cells sense and respond to mechanical forces and the role of mechanotransduction in homeostasis and pathology.
Ellie said: “I am humbled and honoured to receive this award. It is a testament to the wonderful people who have been part of my journey and the stimulating collaborations and incredible support I have had from mentors, family, and friends over the years.”
Industry & Academic Collaboration Award: DDU-GSK Kinetoplastid Drug Discovery Team
The 2024 Industry &Academic Collaboration Award will be presented to the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU)-GSK Kinetoplastid Drug Discovery Team. In 2011, the DDU at the University of Dundee and GSK Global Health started a formal collaboration to discover and develop new drug candidates for the neglected tropical diseases, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. The group was initially supported by a 5-year award from Wellcome, followed by several further Wellcome awards as well as significant in-kind contributions from GSK. The collaboration covers the entire pre-clinical drug discovery pipeline, from hit discovery to pre-clinical candidate selection. The team consists of over 20 scientists in the DDU and at GSK global health. Access to know-how and resource from across the company is available at GSK as needed. The collaboration is currently led by Manu De Rycker at the DDU and Tim Miles at GSK. Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease are two infectious diseases caused by related parasites from the kinetoplastid family and affect many millions of people worldwide. Currently available drugs have significant drawbacks and there is an urgent need for new, better treatments. In spite of this, there are few concerted drug discovery efforts aimed at tackling these diseases. The fully integrated DDU-GSK collaboration is world-leading in terms of addressing this gap and has successfully delivered two compounds to human clinical trials.
Manu De Rycker, DDU: “The Team is delighted to win the Industry & Academic Collaboration Award. It’s great recognition of a truly integrated industry-academia collaboration that has delivered multiple clinical candidates for Neglected Tropical Diseases. The success of our collaboration is down to a brilliant group of like-minded scientists working together towards a single aim.”
Tim Miles, GSK: “As scientists, we hope that our work will have a positive impact on society and GSK’s collaboration with DDU is a great example of how high-quality science and effective industry-academic partnerships can do that, in this case by delivering promising drug candidates for some of the most neglected populations in world.”
International Award: Professor Marnie Blewitt
The 2024 International Award will be presented to Professor Marnie Blewitt (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research). Marnie’s lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms of epigenetic control and how such mechanisms can be manipulated in the context of disease. She uses functional genetic screens to identify epigenetic regulators, which she started as a PhD student with Professor Emma Whitelaw at the University of Sydney. After graduating from her PhD in 2005, Marnie took up an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council post-doctoral fellowship with Professor Doug Hilton at WEHI to work on the novel protein SMCHD1 that she identified in her PhD. This work earned her the Australian Academy of Sciences Gani medal.
In 2010, Marnie established her own lab at WEHI as an Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth II fellow, continuing to work on epigenetic mechanisms. During this period, Marnie created the first and very popular massively open online course on epigenetic control via Coursera.org. Her recent work on SMCHD1 and mechanisms of epigenetic silencing earned her the Genetics Society of AustralAsia Ross Crozier medal. In 2017, Marnie created the Epigenetics and Development Division at WEHI, which she jointly leads with Professor Anne Voss, as an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Leadership fellow.
Marnie said: “This is an amazing surprise! I am very grateful for the award, which really recognizes the amazing work of all my wonderful past and present team members. I am so lucky to have had the privilege of working with brilliant scientists. Thanks to everyone.”
The Keilin Memorial Lecture: Professor Michael Duchen
The 2024 Keilin Memorial Lecture will be presented to Professor Michael Duchen (University College London). Michael was born in South Africa, moving to the UK as a child. He studied physiology and medicine at Merton College, Oxford, and was fortunate to win a summer scholarship at the Weizman Institute with Professor Roy Caplan where he was introduced to basic principles of bioenergetics. He completed his medical training at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London where he then worked as a junior hospital doctor in a range of specialties, including a period working at St Barnabas Hospital, a rural hospital in the Transkei, in South Africa. After completing the MRCP, he moved to the UCL Department of Physiology to embark on a PhD, supervised by Professor Tim Biscoe. He has stayed at UCL ever since – in fact he still occupies the ‘Starling’ lab in which he did his PhD work, although substantially refurbished! – first as a Royal Society University Research Fellow, then as Reader and Professor.
His early research focused on neurotransmitter receptor biology, but he became interested in mitochondrial bioenergetics first through studies of oxygen sensing in the carotid body, later becoming fascinated by mitochondrial cell biology, in the dialogue between cell signalling pathways and mitochondria, and in the roles of mitochondrial dysfunction in disease, which is where work in the lab is now mostly focused.
Michael said: “I have been incredibly lucky to have a succession of really wonderful young people working with me over the years who have all contributed to this achievement. The award of the Keilin Lecture recognises and validates years of work by that team who I am fortunate to represent. This validation is a great encouragement to pursue new ideas in mitochondrial cell biology with an ambition to understand mechanisms of disease. It would be immensely satisfying for me to complete the circle, applying principles we have learned over many years of work in basic mitochondrial cell biology to identify treatment strategies for people with otherwise intractable clinical problems that I originally encountered as a young doctor. This is my ultimate ambition.”
The Morton Lecture: Professor Sir Michael Ferguson
The 2024 Morton Lecture will be awarded to Professor Sir Michael Ferguson (University of Dundee). Mike studies the biochemistry of protozoan parasites, and in particular their glycobiology. The cell surfaces of trypanosomes and related parasites are dominated by glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchored molecules and Trypanosoma brucei provided him with an ideal system to solve the first GPI chemical structure and to delineate common and parasite-specific aspects of GPI biosynthesis.
With colleagues, he established the DDU at the University of Dundee in 2006, which has resulted in compounds in phase 1 and 2 clinical trials and in the generation of spin-out companies. Mike is also Co-director of the Dundee Proteomics Facility, one of the largest in Europe, that accelerates discovery and translational science.
Mike believes that research should generate new knowledge and, when appropriate, provide returns for its key stakeholders: patients and the taxpayer. He is working with colleagues to commercialize intellectual property to the benefit of an economically depressed region of the UK. He was a member and deputy chair of the Wellcome board of governors (2012–2021) and currently serves on the boards of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and UK Biobank.
Mike said: “I am delighted to receive the honour of the 2024 Morton Lecture of the Biochemical Society. Our work on glycosylphosphatidylinositols (GPIs) stretches over many years and has involved many colleagues and collaborators. In accepting this honour, I want to thank and acknowledge all of them.”
Research Support Award: WEHI Biosciences Team
The 2024 Research Support Award will be presented to the WEHI Bioservices Team (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research). For decades, mouse models have fulfilled one of the most valuable roles in medical research: mice bred specifically pathogen free, mice transgenic for a researcher’s gene of interest or have the gene deleted altogether and mice which are the result of several generations of breeding different knockouts together. A programme of research may involve analysing the immunology of these mice, their organs, their responses to environmental cues, infections or a range of behavioural activities.
The breeding and experimental activities performed to care for and assess these mice are complex and detailed. The work to achieve excellent animal husbandry and welfare while ensuring accurate and well-documented results for researchers is vast. A team of almost 90 animal technicians and attendants at the WEHI perform this work every day of the year.
WEHI technicians are trained to provide highly regulated animal welfare, to identify a range of phenotypes and illnesses in mice and to perform complex experimental procedures while ensuring animals are treated with compassion and respect. This team of technicians works collaboratively with researchers in over 50 laboratories to ensure that each experiment provides data to researchers and supports an efficient and effective use of our scientists’ research dollars.
The WEHI Bioservices Team said: “The Bioservices Team are delighted to receive the 2024 Research Support Award from the Biochemical Society. We are honoured by the recognition that this award represents and the acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication that the team demonstrates to the animals in their care, providing continuing research support in Australia. We would like to extend our thanks to WEHI director Professor Doug Hilton for nominating the team for this award and Professor Kile and Professor Strasser for their support of the nomination.”
Teaching Excellence Award – Early Career: Dr Emma Yhnell
The 2024 Teaching Excellence Award – Early Career will be presented to Dr Emma Yhnell (Cardiff University). Emma obtained a BSc degree in Biochemistry before completing a PhD in Huntington’s disease. She then began an independent research fellowship funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales to translate her findings on cognitive training into the patient clinic. Emma’s clinical research inspired her and demonstrated the need to provide accessible and engaging information. Working currently as a teaching and scholarship-focused Senior Lecturer, Emma now teaches the next generation of budding scientists. Using her international expertise in science communication, she delivers engaging and interactive teaching sessions with passion and infectious enthusiasm. Emma is a well-respected academic who has built a reputation for her ability to untangle the academically technical and translate it into entertaining, relevant and engaging content. In 2022, she was elected to the Learned Society of Wales as the youngest ever Fellow. As a first-generation academic with expertise in equity, diversity and inclusion, Emma is changing the typical image of teaching in higher education by making science more open, honest and fun.
Emma said: “Wow, I am absolutely ecstatic and incredibly humbled to win the Biochemical Society’s Teaching Excellence Award – Early Career in 2024! Thank you so much/diolch yn fawr iawn to those who nominated me and supported my application. I want to use this award to encourage others to try out innovations in their own teaching, whether that is incorporating a prop, trying some interactive polling or even playing some music; give it a go, I am sure that your students will massively appreciate it. Pursuing a career in teaching has been the best career decision and it is such a pleasure and a privilege to play a small part in helping our Bioscience students to understand complex topics. I will keep doing my best to make teaching in Higher Education more accessible, inclusive, and fun so that all students reach their full potential.”
Teaching Excellence Award – Established Educator: Dr Ellie Davison
The 2024 Teaching Excellence Award – Established Educator will be presented to Dr Ellie Davison (University of Lincoln). Ellie is the Director of Teaching and Learning for the University of Lincoln Science Foundation Year (SFY), providing a year zero for over 40 programmes across the College of Science. Drawing on her collaborative skills, developed during an early career in genetics research, and her pedagogic expertise cultivated during her years as an ‘outstanding’ secondary school science teacher, Ellie leads teaching and learning for over 250 students a year who have faced barriers to learning or have non-traditional qualifications. Ellie ensures that flexibility and inclusive design are built in as default, with multi-format learning activities, differentiated resources and an assessment strategy that enables all students to showcase their strengths. She embeds transferable academic and holistic skill development into the curriculum, including maintaining positive mental health, ensuring students thrive in future years of their degree and beyond. Ellie supports colleagues across and beyond the institution to develop their inclusive practice and devises opportunities for students to develop their own teaching and pedagogic research skills. Ellie led SFY to national recognition with a CATE award for ‘closing well known attainment gaps’ and is recognized by the sector as a National Teaching Fellow (NTF) for ‘spearheading the provision of a transformative education’.
Ellie said: “I’m thrilled to receive the Biochemical Society Teaching Excellence Award and to be able to champion our magnificent foundation science students who, often against a backdrop of personal challenges or circumstances, enrich our institutions with their determination to succeed.”
Nominations for the Biochemical Society’s 2025 Awards will open in August 2023 and can be made by and for members and non-members alike.