A beginning of summer with Nobel Prize stars at IOCB Prague

4 July 2024
A beginning of summer with Nobel Prize stars at IOCB Prague
From left: IOCB Prague director Prof. Jan Konvalinka, Prof. Jules Hoffmann, Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague)

At the start of the summer, two Nobel Prize laureates, professors Jean-Marie Lehn and Jules Hoffmann, met at IOCB Prague. The former became a laureate in chemistry in 1987 and the latter won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the development of medicine in 2011. In addition, Jules Hoffmann gave a lecture at the IOCB, which filled up the local lecture hall.

The world-renowned immunologist Jules Hoffmann is famous for his key discoveries in the field of innate immunity. In his lecture, he described the decisive moments in the development of modern immunology as well as the personalities that have influenced it the most. Of course, he also mentioned his own important contribution to this field. Together with his team, Jules Hoffmann was the first to describe the role played by the Toll pathway in innate immunity. He found that it is crucial in the recognition of infections and the activation of immune responses. This discovery furthered the understanding of the mechanisms of immunity in mammals, including humans.

Jean-Marie Lehn visits IOCB Prague relatively often. As he recalled during lunch with the management of this scientific institution and his former doctoral students, he had met already the first director and founder of the institute, Prof. František Šorm. The people at the institute are rightly proud of this friendship, points out the director of the institute, Prof. Jan Konvalinka, who goes on to say: "In recent years, we have welcomed almost twenty Nobel Prize winners to our institute. All of them, without exception, are vastly interesting personalities, but some are quite extraordinary, both professionally and personally, and I dare say that they have become our close friends. One of them is Jean-Marie Lehn, who knows our institute intimately and practically belongs to the family. He is at home with Czech science. At lunch, he boasted that his treasures included a piece of wire from Jaroslav Heyrovský's original polarograph."

(Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague) (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague) (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague) (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague) (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague) (Photo: Tomáš Belloň / IOCB Prague)

Jean-Marie Lehn returns to Czechia regularly at the invitation of the French embassy in Prague, which annually awards scientific prizes to promising young scientists from domestic research institutions. One of these awards, specifically that in chemistry, bears his name. The prizes are divided into seven categories, each of which has its particular sponsor.

The Jean-Marie Lehn Award is financially supported by the IOCB Tech Foundation. Its director Dušan Brinzanik notes: "The award for chemistry has an amazing tradition. Jean-Marie Lehn, together with the French embassy, has been awarding young scientists for research conducted as part of their doctoral studies since 1994. Such recognition brings encouragement and impetus for further work, and often also opens up avenues to interesting internships. It is no coincidence that many of its laureates have become leaders of their own groups and leading scientists in their field. We are proud to be part of this through our financial support."

Awarding of the Jean-Marie Lehn Prize (Photo: © Ondřej Besperát)

As in previous years, young scientists from IOCB Prague have met with success in the competition. Ondřej Groborz from the group of Tomáš Slanina, nominated by the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, won first place in the competition for the Sanofi Prize in Pharmacy for his work dedicated to researching the behavior of thermoresponsive polymers in the body.

David Dunlop from the same group placed second in the Jean-Marie Lehne Prize in Chemistry with his project ‘Electronic and geometric degrees of freedom of organoelement compounds’. He comments: "In the competition paper I presented my approach to studying how organoelemental compounds interact with light. I therefore see the award as a recognition of the procedures that I have succeeded in developing and the results that my colleagues and I have achieved thanks to this. The award also opens the door for me to participate in a research internship in France, which I have decided to do in the scientific group of Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn."

Ondřej Groborz won the first prize in the Sanofi Prize in Pharmacy for his work on the behaviour of thermoresponsive polymers in the body. (Photo: © Ondřej Besperát)
David Dunlop won the second prize in the Jean-Marie Lehn Prize in Chemistry for his work 'Electronic and geometric degrees of freedom of organo-first compounds'. (Photo: © Ondřej Besperát)

Dozens of candidates from all over Czechia apply for the competition each year. First, they have to pass through the sieve of scrutiny at their mother institution, and then they progress to defending their research before a jury composed of Czech and French experts. The three best applicants also receive a monetary prize in the form of a cheque donated by the respective sponsoring company. In addition, the first two winners receive a scholarship from the Embassy of France in Prague for a one-month internship at a French laboratory of their choice.

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