Azim Surani claims prestigious award for work at the Institute

Azim Surani claims prestigious award for work at the Institute

Azim Surani claims prestigious award for work at the Institute

Key Messages

  • Professor Azim Surani worked at the Babraham Institute between 1979 and 1991
  • His work led to the discovery of genomic imprinting in the 1980s. Imprinting was a key discovery in early epigenetics research, which is now a global undertaking. The Babraham Institute continues to be a world-leader in epigenetics.
  • Imprinting means that genes inherited from each parent can behave differently in a developing embryo. It is vital for healthy development in a wide range of species.

Research performed at the Institute in the 1980s by Professor Azim Surani has been recognised with one of Canada’s highest research accolades. The Canada Gairdner International Award celebrates transformative contributions to research that impact human health.

The 2018 award will be jointly presented to Professor Surani and to Davor Solter, of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, “for their discovery of mammalian genomic imprinting that causes parent-of-origin specific gene expression and its consequences for development and disease”. Their findings, published in 1984, were the first to show that the genetic information we inherit from our parents retains a ‘memory’ of whether it comes from our mother or our father.

We now know that imprinting has many effects on healthy development, affecting embryo growth, placenta formation, nutrient supply and neuronal development. It can even impact behaviours later in life. Errors in imprinting can also contribute to a wide array of human medical conditions from obesity to cancer.

Professor Surani relocated to the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in 1991, where he is now Director of Germline and Epigenetic Research. The discoveries he made here at the Babraham Institute laid the groundwork for further investigations into gene regulation and contributed to the development of the field of epigenetics, which is still a key research programme at the Institute today.

Director of the Babraham Institute, Professor Michael Wakelam, said: “Many congratulations to Azim. This award recognises the vital contributions that his work has made both to global science and medicine as well as to research here at the Institute. We are positive that research in this area still hold great potential to improve our understanding of human health and could have the power to help more of us to live longer, healthier lives.”

Professor Wolf Reik first came to the Babraham Institute in the 1980s as a post-doctoral researcher with Professor Surani. He was one of the first to start examining how genomic imprinting works at the molecular level. Since that time, Professor Reik has become the Head of the Institute’s Epigenetics Programme. The Programme continues to investigate genomic imprinting and its effects, particularly through the work of Dr Gavin Kelsey and Dr Myriam Hemberger.

Speaking about Professor Surani’s work on genomic imprinting, Professor Reik said: “This seminal discovery had a major impact on much of what we know and love about epigenetics today. Many congratulations to both Azim and Davor for this well-deserved award recognising their vital contributions to the field. I am honoured to have been at the Institute, working with Azim and Sheila Barton, in those early days. And I am proud that many excellent colleagues from that time – Anne Ferguson-Smith, Hiroyuki Sasaki, Peter Jones etc. – are now international leaders in this exciting and important research field.”


Dr Jonathan Lawson, Babraham Institute Communications Manager

Professor Azim Surani in his current lab at the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge. Credit: brandAnonymous

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to undertake world-class life sciences research. Its goal is to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Research focuses on signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing.