Professor acknowledged for pioneering work in gene therapy with prestigious EU award

Professor Mimoun Azzouz from the University of Sheffield has been presented with a €2.5m award from the European Research Council (ERC) for his groundbreaking work in gene therapy for neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Azzouz, Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has been recognised with the prestigious and highly competitive ERC Advanced Investigator Award, a great distinction in European biomedical research.

The outstanding achievement allows Professor Azzouz and his team to expand the horizon of translational research at SITraN and develop tools for efficient, safe and selective delivery of therapies to the central nervous system (CNS) to treat neurological disorders.

His research team will also undertake studies in order to gain a better understanding of disease mechanisms at the molecular and cellular levels in two devastating neurodegenerative diseases, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and Motor Neuron Disease (MND).

Professor Azzouz said: "I am delighted to be presented with this prestigious award. This is a wonderful achievement which will enhance the research capability and profile of my research team as well as neuroscience research in Sheffield.

"This award now offers me a platform to reinforce my, and SITRaN's, European and international leadership in the field of gene therapy for neurodegenerative disease."

SITraN is an essential development in the fight against Motor Neuron Disease and other common neurodegenerative disorders of the motor system. Professor Azzouz has a long-standing interest in developing gene therapy approaches for neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Azzouz and his team utilise viral based gene transfer systems both for research and gene therapy applications. Such viral systems have included lentiviruses and adeno-associated vectors. His research focuses on developing new therapeutic strategies for Motor Neuron Diseases and Parkinson's disease.

He also collaborates with other groups looking at new experimental approaches for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Notes for Editors: Professor Azzouz graduated in Biology and Neuroscience from the University of Rabat, Morocco in 1993. He obtained a Master in Neuroscience with 1st Class Honours from the University of Marseille, France in 1994. In 1997 he was awarded a PhD in Neuropharmacology at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. He then worked as post doctoral scientist at the Gene Therapy Center in Lausanne, Switzerland from 1997 to 2000. He was recruited in 2000 by Oxford BioMedica Ltd. as Senior Scientist then appointed as Director of Neurobiology in 2003. He was also a visiting scientist at Oxford University between 2000 and 2005. In 2006, he was invited to join the University of Sheffield and was appointed to the Chair of Translational Neuroscience. He has been successful in attracting an array of scientific awards including the prestigious ERC Advanced Investigator Award and MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) Award. Professor Azzouz is or has been advisor for pharmaceutical companies (BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc, Oxford BioMedica Ltd). He is member of scientific panels for various funding bodies such as the Medical Research Council (MRC), the French Muscular Dystrophy Association and The Research Council of Norway.

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) is a new state-of-the-art dedicated research institute at the University of Sheffield which was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh on the 18th November 2010. The £12 million research facility, covers 2,800 m² over two floors and includes research labs, offices, seminar rooms and a library. The Institute has been generously funded by the University and the Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease, which was formed by a concerned group of Patrons who wanted to support its development.

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) brings together scientists and medical specialists from around the globe who are dedicated to finding the causes and a cure for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), as well as other neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a childhood form of motor neurone disease.

The establishment of SITraN in Sheffield offers the opportunity for a co-ordinated approach to the development and clinical trialling of new therapies based on rational targets of proven preclinical effectiveness. Scientists in SITraN use technologies such as experimental modelling of disease, gene expression profiling and bioinformatics analysis, gene therapy, nanotechnology as well as stem cell biology to improve therapy delivery into the nervous system in order to significantly accelerate the pace of therapeutic development for neurodegenerative disorders. The multidisciplinary approach provides a stimulating, vibrant education and training environment for both medical and neuroscience students from the UK and overseas.

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK's leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.The University's research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.
For further information, please visit University of Sheffield

For more information about SITraN visit SITraN

To find out more about the Department of Neuronscience at the University of Sheffield visit Department of Neuroscience

For further information please contact: Amy Pullan, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2229859 or email a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk