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French-Canadian Scientist Awarded “Oscars of Science” for Cancer Treatment

French-Canadian Scientist Awarded Prize for Cancer Treatment
French-Canadian scientist Michel Sadelain Credit : AFP

French-Canadian scientist Michel Sadelain was honored with the prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Los Angeles on Saturday for his groundbreaking research in genetically modifying immune cells for cancer treatment.

The ceremony, often referred to as the “Oscars of Science,” attracted a star-studded audience including tech luminaries such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates, as well as Hollywood celebrities like Jessica Chastain, Robert Downey Jr., and Bradley Cooper.

Sadelain’s pioneering work has led to the development of a revolutionary therapy known as Chimeric Antigen Receptor – T (CAR-T), which has demonstrated remarkable effectiveness against certain types of blood cancers. Speaking on the red carpet at the Oscars Museum, Sadelain expressed his gratitude for the recognition, stating, “This prize is an extraordinary honor, especially considering that many of my scientific colleagues doubted the potential success of this research for a long time.”

The Breakthrough Prize, established in 2010, aims to celebrate and reward the world’s most brilliant minds across various fields including life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics. Often dubbed as the “Oscars for Science,” the prize is backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Sadelain will share the $3 million prize money with American immunologist Carl June, who also made significant contributions to the field independently.

“The greatest satisfaction,” Sadelain emphasized, “comes from witnessing patients who were previously deemed incurable now thriving, thanks to CAR-T cell therapy.” Sadelain’s journey in medical research began with his studies in medicine in Paris, followed by immunology research in Canada, and postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989.

During his time at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Sadelain developed a groundbreaking technique using a disabled virus to genetically reprogram human T-cells. This modification allowed the T-cells to target and destroy specific cancer cells, marking a significant advancement in cancer treatment.

The CAR-T cell therapy, as Sadelain named it, has since revolutionized cancer treatment, with several US-approved therapies available and numerous clinical trials underway. Patients undergo a process where their T-cells are collected, modified outside the body, and then reintroduced into the bloodstream, creating what are termed “living drugs.”

While CAR-T therapy has shown promise in treating lymphoma, certain types of leukemia, and myeloma, Sadelain remains hopeful for its potential application in other cancer types. However, one of the main challenges lies in reducing the cost of treatment, which currently exceeds $500,000 per patient and is typically covered by insurance.

In addition to Sadelain’s recognition, the Breakthrough Prize honored around 20 other scientists for their outstanding contributions in various fields. Notable research awarded included the development of effective drugs for treating the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis and the discovery of common genetic factors contributing to Parkinson’s disease. The ceremony underscored the importance of scientific innovation in addressing complex medical challenges and improving human health.

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