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Peter Hegemann receives 2013 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

The biochemist is awarded for the discovery of ion channels that can be activated by light

Peter Hegemann, researcher at the Department of Experimental Biophysics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Georg Nagel, researcher at the Institute Julius-von-Sachs at the University of Wurzburg, are jointly awarded the 2013 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for their discovery of ion channels that can be activated by light. They have thus created a new and most promising discipline in the field of neurosciences - “optogenetics”.

Peter Hegemann showed that photosensitive proteins controlled the movements of the microscopic green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which only moves in function of its exposure to light. Georg Nagel showed that rhodopsins from microbes, including the ones from the alga, can be brought into animal cells where they function well and their working can be studied. Together they studied the functionality of these proteins in depth. They thus discovered the unique property of ion channels that may be activated under exposure to light and are usable for the study of neural circuits in vitro and in vivo with so far unmatched levels of precision. The two researchers thus initiated a new discipline – optogenetics - that offers an entirely new perspective for the treatment of certain neurological diseases in particular.

Peter Hegemann and Georg Nagel will use the prize money to continue their research into proteins that may be activated by exposure to light. The award will be held in Geneva (Switzerland) on Thursday, 18 April 2013. Peter Hegemann and Georg Nagel have already shared several distinctions, notably the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, USA (2010), and the Karl-Heinz-Beckurts Prize (2010) and Klaus-Joachim-Zülch Prize (2012) in Germany.

Peter Hegemann was born 1954 in Munster, studied chemistry in his home town and then in Munich, where he was awarded his PhD in biochemistry. He then left for the USA and post-doctoral work at the University of Syracuse (State of New York). On his return to Germany in 1986, he was a research group leader at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry, after which he was named Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Regensburg. Since 2004, he holds the position of Professor of Experimental Biophysics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Peter Hegemann is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina.

Georg Nagel was born 1953 in Weingarten near Ravensburg. He studied biology and biophysics at the recently created University of Konstanz. After teaching for several years at high school in Switzerland, he continued his education and was awarded his PhD in biology and biophysics at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1988. Thereafter he left for the USA for post-doctoral training at Yale University, then Rockefeller University. He returned to Germany in 1992, where he became a group leader in the Department of Biophysical Chemistry at the Max-Planck Institute of Biophysics. Since 2004, he is Professor of Molecular Plant Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Wurzburg (Bavaria).


Constanze Haase
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
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Phone: +49 30 2093-2332