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Next generation sequencing pioneers awarded prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Millenium Prize 2020

Prof Sir David Klenerman, UK DRI Group Leader at Cambridge, and Prof Sir Shankar Balasubramanian have been awarded the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for their development of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). The groundbreaking technology has significantly reduced the time and cost associated with sequencing a human genome, revolutionising modern research and medicine.

The Cambridge pair, who also picked up the ‘Millennium Technology Prize’ this year, share the $3m (£2.2m) prize with Pascal Mayer, from the French company Alphanosos. The NGS technology allows us to read a human genome in one hour for £1k - a million times faster and at a fraction of the cost of previous approaches. This has been critical for modern science and tackling global health challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic where researchers have been able to rapidly share the genetic code of viral variants to help diagnosis and vaccine development.

It’s had a massive impact and much more than we imagined when we were brainstorming this. We didn’t expect it to become such a dominant technology. Prof Sir David Klenerman, UK DRI Group Leader at Cambridge

The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki in 2013. They recognise the world’s top scientists in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. In 2016, UK DRI Group Leader at UCL, Prof John Hardy was awarded the top prize for his extensive and influential genetic research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the UK DRI at Cambridge, Prof David Klenerman is building a better understanding of the fundamental molecular basis for the aggregation and spreading of toxic proteins in neurodegenerative disease. This knowledge could lead to the design of new treatments for a condition like Alzheimer’s. However, as said to the Guardian, Prof Klenerman worries that UK funders are no longer keen to support basic research.

Our concern is that the research councils are funding fewer curiosity-driven projects and as a result we are not going to get these breakthroughs. Prof Sir David Klenerman, UK DRI Group Leader at Cambridge

Prof Klenerman and this year’s other laureates will attend a televised gala award ceremony in 2022 designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions.

Article published: 10 September 2021

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