Professor Muzlifah Haniffa of Sanger Institute and Newcastle University wins 2019 Foulkes Foundation Medal for biomedical research
The 2019 Foulkes Foundation Medal has been awarded to Professor Muzlifah Haniffa for her outstanding contribution to biomedical science.
Prof Haniffa, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Newcastle University, has improved our understanding of the developing human immune system and childhood kidney cancer, mapped the maternal-foetal interface and discovered new immune cells in the skin.
“I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard that I was this year’s winner of the Foulkes Foundation Medal – I am thrilled!” she said.
“This award makes me feel increasingly driven to discover more about the immune system, by creating open access cell maps which can be used to better understand health and disease.
“I cannot think of anything more exciting than working to uncover all of the secrets of the body’s immune system.”
Awarded biennially by The Academy of Medical Sciences, The Foulkes Foundation Medal recognises a rising star within biomedical research who has contributed important and significant impacts to the field before, or in, their first independent position.
Prof Haniffa and her collaborators announced the completion of the first ever cell map of the developing immune system in the human liver, skin and kidney in October, as the Cambridge Independent reported.
It gave new insight into how the blood and immune systems develop in humans, and will help in the fight against leukaemia and diseases of the immune system, while also having implications for regenerative medicine.
Prof Haniffa is one of the pioneers behind the Human Cell Atlas, the international effort to map and characterise every cell in the body.
She completed, with collaborators, the first single-cell reconstruction of the maternal-foetal interface in humans - where mother and baby cells meet in the womb - in 2018. It is a key resource for the study of what makes a pregnancy successful or not, and could help us understand how to reduce the risk of miscarriage and prevent conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
Prof Haniffa’s work on the Human Development Cell Atlas, part of the overall atlas, helped to identify the prenatal cellular origin of Wilm’s tumour. This childhood kidney cancer is most often found in children under the age of seven.
The discovery could help lead to more targeted treatments for children with this type of cancer in future.
Maureen Foulkes-Hajdu, chairman of the Foulkes Foundation described Prof Haniffa as “an outstanding young woman scientist who has played a key role in several fundamental science world firsts”.
She added: I know she is working on further breakthrough research and eagerly await the results in due course.
ProfSir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Professor Haniffa shows how multidisciplinary research can reap huge rewards for our understanding of the human body.
“I am impressed that she prioritises team science, mentoring and engaging with the public alongside her cutting edge research. Her recent cell atlas of the immune system is open access, allowing other researchers to benefit from the research.
“We need more scientists who can bring this spirit, knowledge and skill to their work. I am delighted that Professor Haniffa has been recognised by the Foulkes Foundation as the rising star that she quite clearly is.”
She will receive the medal and a cash prize at the Academy of Medical Sciences' AGM on December 3, where she will deliver a lecture on her research.