Professor Matthias Mann, coordinator of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) project PROSPECTS ('Proteomics specification in time and space'), has received the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine 2012 and the Ernst Schering Prize 2012. These were awarded for his work on the development of mass spectrometric procedures for protein analysis and methods for large-scale proteomics, a major new field in biomedical research that deals with the large-scale identification and characterisation of large groups of proteins, or proteomes.
Now that the genetic heritage of many species has been decrypted, biologists' attentions have shifted from the genome to the proteome with the aim of characterising the totality of the proteins in a cell or an organism. Professor Mann has revolutionised methods used to characterise the proteome by using mass spectrometry, a technique for measuring the structure of molecules by measuring their mass.
Speaking to CORDIS News, Professor Mann talks about the significance of winning the two awards: 'I am delighted to receive the two prizes. Winning the Louis-Jeantet Prize is particularly important as it is a medical prize, which means our work is being acknowledged for its impact on medical science, so this helps us move forward in this direction. It is a worthwhile field and there is a lot of promise. We hope to use this technology directly in diagnosis and be able to tell what treatment someone needs based on their protein profile. If we know what proteins really look like, it can really help us when it comes to understanding diseases.'
Professor Mann led work that successfully saw the extraction of proteins from the gel used by biologists to separate these molecules, but which previously rendered analysis via mass spectrometry impossible. He then miniaturised electrospray, a technique used for ionising molecules, and thus considerably enhanced the sensitivity of the analysis. Finally he used mathematical algorithms to identify protein fragments by comparing them with those already listed in databases.
The Ernst Schering Prize was established in 1991 and is awarded annually for particularly outstanding basic research in the fields of medicine, biology or chemistry. Since 1986, the Swiss-based Louis-Jeantet Foundation has awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine annually to biomedical researchers in Europe.
Professor Mann highlighted the role EU funding has played in these achievements. He praised the EU for its 'forward thinking approach' in identifying how important it was to support mass spectrometry research as it entered into the protein analysis field. He also hailed the way EU-funded projects fuse collaboration with academia and industry by citing the partnership with one of the PROSPECTS consortium partners, THERMO SCIENTIFIC, as an example: 'We are happy and very grateful to the EU for funding as it has a direct positive effect on our work, as it is an opportunity to do it on a scale that allows us to be competitive. For example, the partnership with THERMO means we get to use an instrument they developed before it goes to market; it is a nice way to bring together industry partners as it forces you to work together and brings together different proteomics sub-disciplines.'
He also commented on how EU funding is helping the EU remain competitive in such a rapidly expanding field: 'With increasing competition from the United States and Asia in the field, it is important that Europe retains its place at the forefront, and this is where EU research funding is instrumental.'
Matthias Mann studied mathematics and physics at the University of Göttingen in Germany before going on in 1988 to undertake a PhD at Yale University in the United States. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, he became group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. Later he went back to Odense as a bioinformatics professor. Since 2005, he has been a director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Munich, Germany. In addition, he chairs the proteomics department at the newly founded Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has authored or co-authored over 440 publications with more than 70 000 citations, making him one of the most productive researchers in the world.