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Körber European Science Prize > Previous Prizewinners > 2020

Botond Roska – Prizewinner 2020

Körber European Science Prize 2020 goes to Botond Roska. The Hungarian physician revolutionised ophthalmology with his work and is one of the world's leading experts in the study of vision and the retina.

Botond Roska has set himself the goal of restoring sight to the blind. Most eye diseases are caused by hereditary or age-related defects in the retina. Roska has carried out pioneering work to identify the approximately one hundred different cell types in the retina and their complex interplay in signal processing.

The scientist is now working on making these fundamental insights beneficial for patients and using gene therapies to alleviate or cure their diseases. Roska achieved a genuine breakthrough when he reprogrammed a cell type in the eye, enabling it to take over the function of defective light receptor cells. He was thus able to make blind retinas light-sensitive again – and clinical trials with blind people have already begun.

Botond Roska, 50, initially studied cello at the Academy of Music in Budapest, but had to give up his musical career due to an injury and subsequently completed his studies in medicine and mathematics. Together with Professor Hendrik Scholl, he became a founding director of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology of the University Basel, IOB in December 2017.

The Körber European Science Prize 2020 was presented to Roska on 7 September in the Great Festival Hall of Hamburg City Hall.

Report of the presentation of the prize

For his research in ophthalmology, the Hungarian physician Botond Roska has been awarded the Körber European Science Prize 2020, endowed with one million euros. The award ceremony took place on 7 September, 2020 in the Great Festival Hall of Hamburg City Hall. Roska is one of the world's leading experts in the field of vision and retinal research.

The 50-year-old studied medicine and mathematics and received his doctorate as a neurobiologist in Berkeley. He then continued his research in the fields of genetics and virology at Harvard. Since 2017 he has been founding director of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology in Basel together with Prof. Dr. Henrik Scholl.

Roska's gene therapy gives hope to blind people

"Botond Roska's research holds great hopes for millions of people who have lost their eyesight due to retinal disease," announced Hamburg's First Mayor Peter Tschentscher at the award ceremony in Hamburg City Hall, adding: "In Germany alone, more than 30,000 people suffer from loss of vision caused by a retinal disease. Worldwide there are more than 30 million." Roska and his team have done pioneering work in tracking down the approximately one hundred different cell types in the retina and investigating their interaction in signal processing. Roska achieved a breakthrough when he reprogrammed a cell type in the eye so that it could take over the function of defective light receptor cells. He was thus able to make blind retinas light-sensitive again. Another success: Roska succeeded for the first time in growing a complete artificial retina in Petri dishes. These mini retinas can now be used to test whether certain gene therapies work.

In view of the current corona pandemic, the presentation of the 36th Körber European Science Prize showed more than ever how important the promotion of scientific expertise is. Research and science are crucial to mastering the major challenges of the future, emphasised Tschentscher. Dr. Lothar Dittmer, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Körber Foundation, described the fact that the award ceremony could take place in Hamburg City Hall as the first major public event after the lockdown as a socio-political signal and an indication of the importance of science, not only in the Hanseatic city: "None of the central challenges facing society will be mastered without recourse to scientific expertise."

Botond Roska is a specialist in the previously incurable retinal disease retinitis pigmentosa, which leads to blindness. The scientist is working to apply his findings to patients in order to alleviate or cure their disease with modern gene therapies. The new way of seeing must first be learned in a joint dialogue, Roska explained in an interview with the science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar. This is because, after therapy, the treated persons would not be able to see any colours at first. According to the researcher, this is like watching old black and white films.

Receiving the Körber Prize will enable Botond Roska and his team to advance their research in order to better understand the human retina and develop therapies. Roska emphasised the great potential of young Hungarian scientists. "On the other hand, the award contributes to drawing attention to blindness, one of mankind’s biggest problems," said Roska.

In conversation with Ranga Yogeshwar, Tatjana König, Executive Board Member of the Körber Foundation, also emphasised the relevance of promoting young talent. According to König, no talent should be squandered; women in the sciences must be promoted even more strongly.

Martin Stratmann, Chairman of the Körber Prize Trustee Committee, argued that science should not preach: "Science must take up the dialogue that answers questions". To achieve this, science and politics must work hand in hand – especially in times like the ones we are currently experiencing.

Portrait

The Hungarian physician Botond Roska has set himself the goal of restoring sight to the blind. Roska has tracked down the approximately one hundred different cell types in the retina and investigated their interaction. Now the scientist is working on making these fundamental insights beneficial for patients and alleviating or curing their diseases. Roska achieved a breakthrough when he reprogrammed a cell type in the eye, enabling it to take over the function of defective light receptor cells. He was thus able to make blind retinas light-sensitive again. Clinical trials with blind people have already begun. Botond Roska has been awarded the Körber Prize for European Science 2020 for his research.

Presentation of the prize

Photos of the presentation of the Körber European Science Prize 2020 to Botond Roska in the Great Festival Hall of Hamburg City Hall, 7 September 2020.

These photos are free to use in the context of news coverage with the credits given below.

Dr. Lothar Dittmer, Prof. Dr. Botond Roska, Prof. Dr. Martin Stratmann (from left)
Credit: Körber-Stiftung/David Ausserhofer
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Prof. Dr. Botond Roska, Ranga Yogeshwar (from left)
Credit: Körber-Stiftung/David Ausserhofer
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Presentation of the Körber Prize in the Hamburg City Hall, 7 September 2020
Credit: Körber-Stiftung/David Ausserhofer
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Tatjana König, Prof. Dr. Botond Roska, Dr. Lothar Dittmer, Prof. Dr. Martin Stratmann, Dr. Peter Tschentscher (from left)
Credit: Senatskanzlei Hamburg
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Detailed Information

Curriculum Vitae Botond Roska

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press release, 23.06.2020

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Photos

The following photos are free to use in the context of news coverage with the credit Körber-Stiftung/Friedrun Reinhold.

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