Judith Campisi receives first Olav Thon Foundation Prize

When Buck faculty Judith Campisi, PhD got an e-mail in mid-January asking if she had time to talk to someone from the University of Oslo, she said sure – expecting to be asked to join a scientific review committee or advisory board. Campisi, who is internationally known for pioneering work on the connection between aging and cancer and the emerging field of “inflammaging,” often gets those requests. But when she picked up the phone she was told there was good news: the Olav Thon Foundation, Norway’s largest charitable organization, had awarded its first international research award in medical and natural sciences to Campisi and Tel Aviv University Professor Yosef Shiloh. She will receive roughly $330,000.

“My first reaction to ‘good news’ was ‘Oh great, are you selling aluminum siding?’” Campisi said. “After that, I was literally speechless.”

The Foundation recognized Campisi for groundbreaking discoveries involving cellular senescence, a process whereby cells permanently lose the ability to divide when they are stressed. Senescence suppresses cancer by halting the growth of premalignant cells, but it is also suspected of driving the aging process. Senescent cells, which accumulate over time, release a continuous cascade of inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, growth factors and proteases. The process sets up the surrounding tissue for a host of maladies including arthritis, atherosclerosis and late life cancer.

According to the Foundation, “Campisi’s research is highly acclaimed in the international community of scientists, occupying the field between molecular biology and age-related cell degeneration. Through her outstanding contributions she has contributed significantly in turning ‘ageing’ into an exciting and prestigious domain of research.”

“Scientists are always heartened to receive recognition for their work,” said Campisi, who is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the recipient of numerous awards including the Longevity Prize from the Ipsen Foundation. “I thank the Foundation for their support and for appreciating the need to advance the field of aging research.” According to the Foundation, “Considering the aging of the population, it is vital to secure for our seniors a healthy life, not only for their own sense of well-being but also for their being able to contribute to their social environment. This is where the larger promise of Campisi’s research lies.” She will go to Oslo to receive the award at a March 5th ceremony. Campisi hopes to invest and then donate back the $330,000 prize to her lab – using the money to buy products or services for ongoing work, with the goal of submitting more competitive grant applications for federal funding.

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