Paris, March 22nd 2017 – Last night, the 19th edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards International Rising Talent gala dinner took place in Paris. Dr Stephanie Fanucchi was one of 15 young female scientists recognised for her innovative research in cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, congratulated Dr Stephanie Fanucchi, a young South African scientist, on being one of 15 young female scientists to receive an International Rising Talent grant at the 19th L'Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science Awards event, held in Paris this week.

Dr Fanucchi was recognised for her innovative research in cancer and autoimmune diseases.  She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Biomedical Translational Research Initiative, an initiative of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the University of Cape Town.

"Winning this award has been surreal," said Dr Fanucchi, and being exposed to such great scientific talent has been a life-changing experience. Having the platform to discuss the importance of having more women in science has been a highlight for me. In addition, we get to celebrate phenomenal female scientific achievements which can inspire young girls who want to enter science."

In congratulating Dr Fanucchi, Minister Pandor said: "It is pleasing to see our young scientists being recognised internationally for the sterling research they do.  This is proof that we are as good as anybody else in the world, if not even better".

International Rising Talents

In addition to honoring distinguished women scientists, the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science programme recognises the importance of highlighting the achievements of younger women who are in the early stages of their scientific careers and supporting them to achieve their potential. In 2014, the L’Oréal-UNESCO programme has established the International Rising Talent Grants, awarded annually to 15 PhD students and post-doctoral Fellows.

Each year, among the national and regional fellows, the fifteen most promising young researchers are honoured as "International Rising Talents".

International Rising Talents are chosen from countries in each world region, namely, Africa and Arab States, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Dr Fanucchi's research

Major advances in cell biology over the last 40 years have allowed scientists to learn a lot more about the immune system. Inflammation, the body's protective response to injury or infection, is perceived as a double-edged sword.  It is needed to clear infection, but if it is not carefully regulated it may lead to autoimmune diseases, cancers and even sepsis. Sepsis is the uncontrolled activation of the immune system and is the leading cause of death in ICU's worldwide.

"Current approaches to treating inflammation are not always successful. This highlights the need to gain a detailed understanding of these processes, so we can develop new therapies and refine old ones," says Dr Fanucchi.

Gene regulation, or the mechanism whereby genes are switched on and off, is critical to how cells function, and regulates inflammation.

"My work focuses on understanding how inflammation is controlled at the level of gene regulation. This is a highly complex process that is not fully understood. Critically, the ability to tune down this rapid response would be a very important therapy," she explains.

To study this process, Dr Fanucchi is using a combination of advanced microscopy and cell biology approaches in transgenic models. Her work came to the fore in 2013 thanks to a paper published in the prestigious journal Cell on the then poorly understood process of how 3D nuclear architecture influences gene regulation. Her current research will help refine targeted therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.