Asifa Akhtar receives 2022 Christa Šerić-Geiger Award

The Geiger Foundation awards Max Planck Director

March 04, 2022

Asifa Akhtar receives the 2022 Christa Šerić-Geiger Prize. The annual award presented by the Carl-Friedrich Geiger Foundation honors women who have made outstanding contributions in science, education, culture, social subjects, or gender equality. The Max Planck Director gets honoured for her achievements in the area of genome regulation.

“As a successful scientist and science manager, Asifa Akhtar is tailor-made for this award,” says the chairman of Carl-Friedrich Geiger Foundation Fadil Šerić. The Max Planck Director from Freiburg and Vice President of the Max Planck Society receives the award endowed with 20,000 euros for her scientific achievements in the area of genome regulation.

Asifa Akhtar and her team are studying the mechanisms of epigenetics that can finetune gene expression to achieve the appropriate levels for a given cell at that particular time. Thus, epigenetic mechanisms, such as histone acetylation, are essential for embryonic development and reactions to environmental influences.

In particular, the laboratory focuses on the expression of genes on the X chromosome during dosage compensation. This mechanism is crucial for ensuring that males and females read the same amount of genes encoded on the X chromosomes, despite having a different number of X chromosomes in these two sexes (male XY; female: XX). If something goes wrong in this process, severe cellular defects can occur. The key factors required for dosage compensation, how they interact, and whether they have any additional functions have been elucidated in numerous studies in the fruit fly Drosophila, mouse models, and humans by Asifa Akhtar’s laboratory.

Basilicata-Akhtar syndrome

The successful characterization of a rare disease demonstrated the clinical relevance of the research conducted in the Akhtar lab. Predominantly young patients suffer from developmental disorders as well as progressive neurological dysfunctions. Groundbreaking analyses in the laboratory of Asifa Akhtar made it possible to understand the biological causes and the factors involved in the disease now known as “Basilicata-Akhtar syndrome.” Prior knowledge from numerous studies in flies and mice was crucial to deciphering this human syndrome.

Asifa Akhtar is the second laureate in 2022. She follows Dr. Lisa Federle, an emergency physician from Tübingen, who was honored by the foundation the previous year. Akhtar receives the prize for her achievements in biomedical research.

The award ceremony will take place on March 4, 2022, at the Kulturhaus in Kehl (Germany).

Short video overview of the award ceremony (in German)

2020 Christa Šerić-Geiger Award

Short video overview of the award ceremony (in German)

CV Asifa Akhtar

Asifa Akhtar, born in Pakistan, obtained her Bachelor degree in Biology at University College London (UCL), UK, in 1993 and her Ph.D. in 1998 at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, studying transcriptional regulation in Richard Treisman’s laboratory. She continued in the field of chromatin regulation as a postdoctoral fellow in Peter Becker’s laboratory at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany, and the Adolf Butenandt Institute, Munich, Germany. In 2001, Asifa Akhtar became group leader at EMBL. In 2009, she moved her laboratory to the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg, Germany (MPI-IE). In 2013, she was appointed Director at the MPI-IE, heading the department of chromatin regulation. Asifa Akhtar received the European Life Science Organization (ELSO) award for significant contribution in the field in 2008 and was elected as an EMBO member in 2013. In 2019, she was elected as member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. In 2020, Asifa Akhtar became the first female Vice President in the Biological-Medical Section of the Max Planck Society.

The Christa Šerić-Geiger Prize & the Geiger Foundation

The Carl Friedrich Geiger Foundation in Kehl was established in 2006 by Christa Šerić-Geiger. The founder wanted to preserve the memory of her father, Carl-Friedrich Geiger, and his entrepreneurial life’s work. At the same time, the foundation pursues the goal of “giving something back” to society by supporting organizations in science, education, culture, medicine, animal welfare, and gender equality. Since 2021, the foundation awarded the Christa Šerić-Geiger Prize, named after the founder. The award, endowed with 20,000 euros, annually honors women for their outstanding achievements in science, education, culture, social subjects, or gender equality.

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