The Swiss Cancer League has awarded today the Robert Wenner Prize 2014 to Momo Bentires-Alj. The Robert Wenner Prize is one of the most prestigious scientific awards in cancer research in Switzerland. Bentires-Alj’s innovative research into the mechanism controlling the formation and progression of breast cancer was cited by the award jury, as were his relentless efforts to ensure that basic discoveries find application in clinical settings. Similarly exceptional is his dedication to create functional networks within the breast cancer community.
Mohamed (Momo) Bentires-Alj and his research group at the FMI aim at a better understanding of the basic biochemical and cell biological mechanisms of breast cancer initiation and progression. He studies normal and neoplastic breast cell fate, metastases and resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies. Through Bentires-Alj’s work several new therapeutic approaches have been identified, and he helped raise awareness about potential dangers of some treatments. He identified SHP2 as a critical factor in breast cancers with poor prognosis, and has described how this phosphatase maintains tumor initiating cells and thus sustains the growth of the tumor and induces metastasis. In collaboration with scientists from the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) the Bentires-Alj group identified resistance mechanisms in metastatic breast cancer and suggested strategies to circumvent these by a combination therapy. Most recently, he showed how cessation of a potential breast cancer treatment (inhibition of CCL2) actually aggravates the disease.
The jury of the Robert Wenner Prize not only noted the outstanding quality of Bentires-Alj’s research, but they were equally impressed by his relentless efforts in building bridges between basic research and the clinic. Bentires-Alj interacts in a strong international network of cancer researchers, and is the founder and president of the European Network for Breast Development and Cancer (ENBDC) that fosters global interactions between labs working in these areas. He is also co-founder of the Basel Breast Consortium (BBC), which is committed to promoting basic, clinical, and translational interdisciplinary research projects locally.
Bentires-Alj studied pharmacy at the University of Liege in Belgium, and subsequently carried out his PhD thesis at the University of Liege, a thesis honored with two awards. He subsequently joined the laboratory of Prof. Benjamin Neel at Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, to investigate the role of phosphatases in cancer. He joined the FMI in late 2006 as a Junior group leader. His scientific career has been distinguished with numerous research awards, among them the Dora-Seif-Prize for Cancer Research (2012), the Susan G. Komen for the Cure EACR award (2014), the Proffered Paper award, EACR23 and the Novartis Select Award. In 2009, Bentires-Alj also secured a highly competitive European Research Council (ERC) grant.
The Robert Wenner Prize was created in 1973 by the Basler gynecologist Robert Wenner to honor outstanding young scientists in cancer research. It is one of the most highly regarded prizes in cancer research and is awarded annually by the Swiss Cancer League. The award is endowed with 100’000 CHF: 80’000 for a research project and 20’000 for the awardee’s free disposal.