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Our genetic differences as means of treatment

Jacques Fellay receives the National Latsis Prize 2012
The medical researcher Jacques Fellay is studying the human genome in search of genetic variations that influence how the body reacts to a virus and to the drugs fighting it. He is to be awarded the National Latsis Prize 2012 for his research.

Jacques Fellay is a "bridge builder" and an advocate of translational research, a discipline that allows the results of basic research to be transferred to medical practice. Always on the borderline between laboratory and hospital, he is of the opinion that, in order to discover medically useful solutions, an exchange between the two worlds is needed.

Jacques Fellay applies this thinking in his own research, which is conducted at the intersection of genomics and infectious diseases and for which he receives the National Latsis Prize 2012. The information stored in our genes can be of great value for developing new treatments.

Different responses to drugs
At the beginning of the millennium, the treatment of HIV patients - persons who were infected with the virus that causes AIDS - still involved serious, undesired side-effects. Jacques Fellay, then a doctoral student of Amalio Telenti in Lausanne, discovered the existence of genetic variations that influence the individual's response to antiretroviral drugs: some patients have a higher concentration of drugs in the blood than others, which in turn increases the risk of a toxic reaction. Knowledge of their genetic profile now makes it easier to predict harmful effects and adjust the treatment accordingly.

During a four-year stay at Duke University in the United States, Jacques Fellay became interested in the genetic material of people who are carriers of the hepatitis C virus. He discovered that the genetic make-up of the patient played a significant role in the success of antiviral treatments, which are only effective in 50 percent of the cases. Today, these genetic predictors of the response to drugs are taken into account by doctors when they choose a treatment.

Fighting viral diseases
At the same time, Fellay kept on studying the HIV virus. He identified three genes that enable certain patient populations to exercise better immune control over the disease. This could be a crucial step towards the development of a vaccine.

Since 2011, as the holder of an SNSF professorship and head of his own lab at the Faculty of Life Sciences at EPF Lausanne, Jacques Fellay has kept on searching for features of the human genome that make it possible to counter viral diseases. Together with his team, he is studying mutations that occur in HIV when fought by the immune system and investigating the genetic variations of infected persons that might be the cause of this.

Bridges of hope
Jacques Fellay is also attempting to understand the different reactions of children to seasonal flu and the respiratory syncytial virus. Why do some children only have fever for a few days, while others need to be admitted to the intensive care unit? Jacques Fellay is convinced of the potential that genomics holds for the future of medicine and continues to build bridges of hope between science and medical practice.

Worth 100,000 Swiss francs, the National Latsis Prize is one of the most prestigious scientific awards in Switzerland. Each year, the Swiss National Science Foundation presents the prize on behalf of the Latsis Foundation to researchers of up to 40 years of age in recognition of their special contribution to science in Switzerland.

The prize will be awarded on 10 January 2013 at the Rathaus in Berne.

Prizes of the Latsis Foundation
The Latsis Foundation was established by the Greek family Latsis in Geneva in 1975. The National Latsis Prize is awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation on behalf of the Latsis Foundation. In addition, there are four university Latsis prizes worth 25,000 Swiss francs each, which are awarded by the University of Geneva, the University of St. Gallen, ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne.

Prof. Jacques Fellay
Global Health Institute
Faculty of Life Sciences
EPF Lausanne
CH-1015 Lausanne
Tel.: +41 (0)21 693 18 49

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