Georg Friedrich Götz Award

Steffen Böttcher and Silvia Brem Honored for Outstanding Medical Research

Cancer researcher and physician Steffen Böttcher from the Medical Oncology and Hematology Clinic, and neuroscientist Silvia Brem from the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, have been presented with the Georg Friedrich Götz Award. The prize is awarded annually for outstanding contributions in the field of medical research.

Nathalie Huber

Video still: Due to the COVID-19 situation, the Georg Friedrich Götz Award was awarded at a very small-scale ceremony at the University of Zurich. (Video: UZH Foundation)

A New Insight into a Much-Studied Gene

Steffen Böttcher
Cancer researcher Steffen Böttcher (Image: zVg)

The focus of Steffen Böttcher’s current research is on the molecular mechanisms of cancer formation – in particular tumors with what are known as TP53 mutations. TP53 is a tumor suppressor gene. Normally, tumor suppressor genes restrict uncontrolled cellular growth. However, when mutations occur in these genes, this leads to increased cell division and thus to carcinogenesis or the formation of a cancer. This is the case with the TP53 gene, which is the most commonly mutated gene in human cancer. Some 50 percent of all tumors carry TP53 mutations.

In his award-winning research, Steffen Böttcher analyzes the unusual mutational spectrum of TP53 missense mutations. Until now, this anomaly was explained by the fact that missense mutations conferred additional tumor-promoting functions to the mutated TP53 gene. Using genome editing in cell lines, tests on animal models, and analyses of patients with acute myeloid leukemia, Steffen Böttcher has now successfully disproved this common hypothesis and instead identified a dominant-negative effect that drives selection of TP53 missense mutations. This will give rise to new therapeutic approaches in future. 


Early Detection of Dyslexia

Silvia Brem
Neuroscientist Silvia Brem (Image: zVg)

Neuroscientist Silvia Brem impressed the jury with her important clinical and basic research studies. Her work delivers key insights into the causes of dyslexia and contributes to the early detection of reading and spelling disorders. 

Silvia Brem has been assistant professor since 2017 and leads a research group at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich. For many years she has been studying how children’s brains develop when they learn to read. In her longitudinal studies she monitors children with impaired reading skills over several years. She has acquired unique expertise in the use of imaging techniques to visualize how the language processing network in the brains of pre-school children evolves as they learn to read.

In her most recent studies, Silvia Brem looks at the connection between speech sounds and letters in children with a family history of reading and spelling disorders. She has demonstrated a correlation between learning success and the neuronal representation of learned letters in the brain. The results indicate that new letters are less strongly represented in the brains of slow learners. On the basis of these findings, Silvia Brem is developing and evaluating an app-based training program to help children, preferably at pre-school age or when they start school.


Georg Friedrich Götz Award

The Georg Friedrich Götz Award is presented annually to two researchers who are habilitated at the University of Zurich and can demonstrate outstanding, internationally recognized achievements in the area of basic or clinical research. The award founder Georg Friedrich Götz was born in Germany in 1893 and moved to Switzerland in 1960, passing away in 1972. The entrepreneur had to travel to Zurich several times for operations, including for lung cancer and for bowel disease. In gratitude for the care he received, he started a foundation at the University of Zurich which awards the prize for progress in medicine each year. The award comes with total prize money of CHF 30,000.

The Georg Friedrich Götz Foundation is located within the medical faculty of the University of Zurich; the UZH Foundation has been managing the foundation's affairs since 2019.

Nathalie Huber, Editor UZH News; English translation by Gemma Brown

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