SA scientist is one of 15 women honoured at international science awards

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A post-doctoral researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and University of Cape Town’s Biomedical Translational Research Initiative (BTRI) has been honoured along with 15 young female scientists at the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

Doctor Stephanie Fanucchi was one of two post-doctoral fellowship recipients for the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Programme.

The 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. A L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship is awarded to these researchers at national and regional ceremonies that take place in more than 45 different countries.

Each year, the fifteen most promising young researchers are also honoured as “International Rising Talents”. Fanucchi and her fellow women researchers were recognised at a dedicated International Rising Talents Gala dinner yesterday.

Fanucchi’s research

Fanucchi’s work focuses on gene regulation and understanding how inflammation is controlled at the level of gene regulation.

Major advances in cell biology over the last 40 years have allowed scientists to learn a lot more about the immune system. Inflammation, the bodies’ protective response to injury or infection, is perceived as a double-edged sword, it is needed to clear infection but if it is not carefully regulated it leads to many diseases, like autoimmune disease, cancers and even sepsis.

Sepsis is the uncontrolled activation of the immune system and is the leading cause of death in ICU’s 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.

Gene regulation is critical to how cells function, and regulates inflammation.

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.

“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,” Fanucchi said.