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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri awarded the Hans Sigrist Prize

Dr Sferruzzi-Perri will be awarded the prize in recognition for her work in maternal-fetal communication during pregnancy

Dr. Sferruzzi-Perri, as the 2020 Hans Sigrist Prize Winner, will receive 100,000 Swiss francs to dedicate to her research, as well as being recognized at the University of Bern’s Dies Academicus (a formal annual academic ceremony) and at the annual Hans Sigrist Symposium at the University of Bern, where she and other experts from the field will speak about Maternal-fetal Communication. 

Each year, the Hans Sigrist Foundation at the University of Bern in Switzerland puts out a call to all the professors at its eight faculties to submit proposals for a field for the coming year’s Hans Sigrist Prize. The prize is not a lifetime achievement award, but instead, it recognizes a top mid-career academic researcher/scientist working in the prize field, who has already done ground-breaking research and who shows promise for more. It is funded by a bequest left by a wealthy benefactor who studied at the University of Bern.

Prof. Norbert Trautmann, President of the Hans Sigrist Foundation, explains, “What sets the Hans Sigrist Prize apart from many others is that the field changes from year to year. When the foundation was established, the board wanted to be able to recognize exceptional research in all academic fields. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the board, it has allowed us also to recognize research that may have impacts and applications for more than one discipline, for example, this year’s prize committee included experts from the University of Bern’s medical, veterinary, and natural sciences (biology) faculties.”

Prof. Christiane Albrecht is a member of the medical faculty at the University of Bern, whose research focuses on the molecular regulation of maternal-fetal transport processes across the placenta and, related to this, mechanisms of maternal-fetal communication. She proposed this year’s prize field “Maternal-fetal Communication during Pregnancy” and served as the prize committee chair. Prof. Albrecht reflects, “As soon as the foundation approved the prize field, I put together a committee of experts, and we began to review the work of cutting-edge academics working in the prize field worldwide. It is an area where a great deal of exciting work is being done, so the process was highly competitive and difficult. Ultimately, after considering the candidates and their work and reviewing outside reviewers’ reports, the 2020 prize committee nominated Dr. Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri of the University of Cambridge to the foundation board as our top choice. The board then decided to award her with the 2020 Hans Sigrist Prize.”

Dr. Sferruzzi-Perri’s research is dedicated to unravelling the epigenetic and genetic regulation of the placenta and, closely related to this, the in utero programming of adult diseases. With her studies showing the influence of the mother’s environment, the placenta in controlling maternal-fetal resource allocation, and her original seminal work on insulin/IGE signaling and fetal growth disorders, Dr. Sferruzzi-Perri has elucidated fundamental concepts of maternal-fetal communication and the fetal origins of health and adult diseases. Her innovative work has motivated further scientific study on the placenta and the design of strategies to prevent pregnancy complications and to improve the life-long health of mothers and their offspring.

Due to the pandemic, the Hans-Sigrist Symposium will take place in 2021, rather than in December 2020. More information about the Hans Sigrist Foundation and the prize, are available on the Hans Sigrist Foundation website. An interview with Dr. Sferruzzi-Perri will also soon be published on the website.