The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine 2018 to Peter Carmeliet, Professor of Medicine at the University of Leuven (Belgium).
The effects of growth factors on blood vessels and nerve cells
Peter Carmeliet received the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine for his research into the effects of growth factors on endothelial and nerve cells and for his efforts to develop treatments for vascular and neurological disorders based on his research findings.
Peter Carmeliet is world-renowned for his studies on growth factors and their effects, both in health and disease. For several decades now, he has been at the forefront of research investigating how growth factors control vascular endothelial cells at the molecular level.
Carmeliet studied vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in particular and discovered that it also affects the growth of nerve fibres (axons). He discovered that placental growth factor (PIGF) affects the development of blood vessels and nerve bundles in embryos but also plays an important role in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases.
More recently, Carmeliet showed how vascular endothelial cells regulate the transport of fatty acids and sugars to underlying tissues, thereby playing a critical role in cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Basic research of this kind may eventually lead to new therapeutic interventions, for example in the treatment of paediatric brain tumours, metastasis and neurodegeneration. Carmeliet is also attempting to develop new therapies based on his research into PIGF. The antibodies that he has developed are currently being tested clinically in patients with medulloblastoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Peter Carmeliet was born in Leuven, Belgium, in 1959. While studying medicine at Leuven, he also trained at the University of Maryland in Baltimore (USA) and the University of California in San Francisco (USA). He received his PhD from the University of Leuven in 1989.
Carmeliet’s post-doctoral appointments include positions at Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA), the Whitehead Institute at MIT (Cambridge, USA), the University of Leuven, and the University of Brussels.
He founded his own research group in Leuven in 1996 and was appointed a full professor there in 1998. The following year, he was appointed professor at Maastricht University. From 2008 to 2015, he was Director of the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) at the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB). There are now more than sixty researchers in his group.
Carmeliet is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. His many awards and honours include the Ernst Jung Medical Award (2010), the Joseph Maisin Prize for Excellence (2010) and the European Academy of Sciences’ Blaise Pascal Medal in Medicine and Life Sciences (2011). He has an honorary doctorate from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt (Germany).