eHealth News, South Africa

Local Scientist Recognised at the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Awards

Dr Stephanie Fanucchi was recognised for her innovative research in cancer and autoimmune diseases during the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Awards - EHN

Post-doctoral researcher at the CSIR within the Biomedical Translational Research Initiative (BTRI), Dr Stephanie Fanucchi, was one of 15 young female scientists recognised for her innovative research in cancer and autoimmune diseases during the 19th edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

Since 1998, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been committed to increase the number of women working in scientific research. Since the programme began, it has supported more than 2,700 young women from 115 countries and celebrated 97 Laureates, at the peak of their careers, including professors Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Ada Yonath, who went on to win a Nobel Prize.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme supports more than 260 young women scientists who are the “scientists of tomorrow” by accompanying them at a key moment in their careers, during their PhD thesis or post-doctoral studies. Dr Fanucchi was one of two post-doctoral fellowship recipients for the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Programme.

Dr Fanucchi was awarded for her work that focuses on understanding how inflammation is controlled at the level of gene regulation.

Inflammation, the bodies’ protective response to injury or infection is perceived as a double-edged sword; it’s needed to clear infection but if it is not carefully regulated it leads to many diseases, like autoimmune disease, cancers and even sepsis, the leading cause of death in ICUs worldwide.

“Current approaches to treat inflammation are not always successful. This highlights the need to gain a detailed understanding of these processes, so we can develop new therapies and refine old ones,” said Dr Fanucchi about her research.

Gene regulation, or the mechanism whereby genes are switched on and off, is critical to how cells function, and regulates inflammation.

“My work focuses on understanding how inflammation is controlled at the level of gene regulation. This is a highly complex process that is not fully understood. Critically, the ability to tune down this rapid response would be a very important therapy,” said Dr Fanucchi.
To study this process, Dr Fanucchi is using a combination of advanced microscopy and cell biology approaches in transgenic models. Her work came to the fore in 2013 thanks to a paper published in the prestigious journal Cell on the then poorly understood process of how 3D nuclear architecture influences gene regulation. Her current research will help refine targeted therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

On being named a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science International Rising Talent, Dr Fanucchi said: “Winning this award has been surreal and being exposed to such great scientific talent has been a life changing experience.”

“Having the platform to discuss the importance of having more females in science has been a highlight for me. In addition, we get to celebrate phenomenal female scientific achievements which can inspire young girls who want to enter science,” concluded Dr Fanucchi.

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