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2022 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine

Jan Steyaert was selected as the 2022 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine winner for his pioneering work in biochemistry. 

The Gabbay Award recognizes research that adds value to the field of biomedical science. Specifically, the Gabbay Award targets research that has a distinct application from its basic science roots. Recipients of the Gabbay Award win either $25,000 if there is a sole winner or $30,000 dollars split between multiple winners. In that sense, it differs from the Brandeis Rosenstiel Award, which primarily focuses on basic research, or research that aims to uncover natural phenomena. This year is the 24th Gabbay Award ceremony. 

Steyaert is the scientific director of the VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology, Vlaams Instituut Biotechnologie, at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, in Brussels, Belgium. Steyaert’s work involved innovating new techniques for pharmaceutical therapies. As described in an article published by the Brandeis alumni network, “Steyaert bridged fundamental high-impact research in biomedical sciences with the mechanistic understanding of one of the biggest classes of pharmaceutical targets by combining structural biology and advanced biotechnology.”

Dagmar Ringe, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry Emerita at Brandeis and chair of the award committee, noted “Jan Steyaert is being recognized for the introduction of nanobody technology as exquisite tools to lock inherently unstable, dynamic proteins into single functional conformations.”

Steyaert’s earlier work involved developing Camelid single-domain antibodies. These compounds are widely known as nanobodies and are of interest to scientists due to their applications in biology and immunogenetics. Furthermore, these molecules are important due to their ability to be diversified in structure in versatile ways. 

Steyaeart pioneered the idea of using these nanobodies to lock proteins into one particular conformation that is best suited for the specific pharmacological treatment. Then using methods such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM, scientists can elucidate further information about the structure of the protein.

In addition to this application, nanobodies are important biomedical technologies that are being used for therapeutic interventions. Steyaert was the co-founder of a company called Ablynx that sought to discover more nanobodies for pharmaceutical purposes. 

Steyaert also co-founded a company called ConfoTherapeutics that utilizes his nanobody technology to freeze compounds that are unstable into stable conformations, thereby facilitating drug discovery research. 

Steyaert will be presented the Gabbay award on Oct. 27 this year. During the award ceremony, he will give a public lecture on his work, which will then be followed by a ceremony. 

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