The Vilcek Foundation raises awareness of immigrant contributions in the United States and fosters appreciation for the arts and sciences. The foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation was inspired by the couple’s respective careers in biomedical science and art history. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded over $7 million in prizes to foreign-born individuals and has supported organizations with over $6 million in grants.

The Vilcek Foundation Prizes recognize and celebrate immigrant leaders in biomedical science and biotechnology in the United States. Yesterday, the Vilcek Foundation announced the recipients of the 2024 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Biomedical Science. This year the foundation awarded $250,000 in prizes to Luciano Marraffini, PhD, Gerta Hoxhaj, PhD, Tomasz Nowakowski, PhD, and Takanori Takebe, MD, PhD.

“With the 2024 Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Biomedical Science, we honor scientists who have made the bold decision to immigrate to the United States—and who, through their personal and professional journeys, have made important discoveries that benefit science, medicine and society,” said Vilcek Foundation president Rick Kinsel. “Since 2006, the Vilcek Foundation Prizes in Biomedical Science have been a way for the foundation to honor Jan Vilcek’s scientific leadership and legacy, and to build awareness of the importance of immigration for scientific research and discovery.”

“The United States’ leadership in biomedical science and research is in no small part due to the contributions of immigrant scientists,” said Jan Vilcek, cofounder, chairman, and CEO of the Vilcek Foundation. “The 2024 Vilcek Foundation prizewinners exemplify the profound diversity of thought and innovation of immigrant scientists: From pioneering studies in cancer metabolism, to using pluripotent stem cells to grow transplantable organoids to treat chronic liver disease, to decoding the nature of CRISPR-Cas systems, their work has formidably advanced science and medicine and is reshaping how scientists and clinicians understand and treat disease.”

Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science

Luciano Marraffini, PhD

The Vilcek Foundation honored Luciano Marraffini, PhD, with the 2024 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science for his pioneering research on the study of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacteria, and on the potential applications for CRISPR-Cas including genome editing. The award is a $100,000 award bestowed on an immigrant scientist whose career achievements demonstrate a legacy of major accomplishment in their area of study.

Born in Argentina, Marraffini is a professor at Rockefeller University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Marraffini’s current research employs molecular genetic and biochemical approaches to analyze the function of CRISPR-Cas systems. Marraffini ultimately hopes to answer fundamental questions about how CRISPR-Cas systems destroy their targets, how the genetic memory is generated, and how CRISPR-Cas immunity affects the evolution of bacteria and archaea.

The 2024 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise

The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science are $50,000 prizes given to immigrant scientists and researchers under the age of 40 whose work represents a significant contribution to their field and opens new avenues for further research and discovery. The 2024 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science were awarded to Gerta Hoxhaj, PhD, Tomasz Nowakowski, PhD, and Takanori Takebe, MD.

Gerta Hoxhaj, PhD

Hoxhaj received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for her work on mapping the molecular links between signaling pathways and metabolic networks of cancer cells with a focus on identifying vulnerabilities that could be used to develop cancer targeted therapies.

Hoxhaj was born in Albania and is the director of the Hoxhaj Lab at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern. Hoxhaj said: “My laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular fundamentals of altered metabolism. Through harnessing the power of classical biochemistry and mass spectrometry, we hope to uncover the metabolic vulnerabilities of cancer and contribute to building the foundations of targeted therapies.”

Tomasz Nowakowski, PhD

Nowakowski received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for the development of technologies to identify and track the regenerative capacity of neural stem cells and neural progenitor cells in the human brain.

Nowakowski was born in Poland, earned his PhD in biomedical sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and completed postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco, where he is now an associate professor of neurological surgery and anatomy. He and his research team investigate the mechanisms by which neural stem cells generate and organize in the human brain. He is passionate about using his role as a research leader to advance and support promising scientists from diverse backgrounds, with a particular focus on supporting historically underserved communities and scientists from Poland and Ukraine.

Takanori Takebe, MD, PhD

Takebe received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for developing vascularized three-dimensional human organoid tissue from pluripotent stem cells that can be transplanted in humans, paving the way for targeted approaches to intractable liver diseases.

Takebe was born in Japan and earned his MD at Yokohama City University School of Medicine. While studying to be a doctor at Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Takebe became increasingly concerned by doctors’ rigid adherence to standard protocols, understanding that each individual patient’s situation is unique. This inspired him to pursue a career in biomedical research where he could ask and explore questions of health and medicine through scientific inquiry.

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