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UNESCO and the Fondation L’Oréal are proud to reveal the names of the five laureates of the 2024 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards. On 28 May, at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, these researchers will be honoured for their pioneering research in life and environmental sciences, particularly this year for their major contribution to tackling global public health challenges ranging from cancer to infectious diseases such as malaria and polio and chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and epilepsy.

RELATED: Fondation L’Oréal and UNESCO honour 30 African women scientists

Every year, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards honour an exceptional woman from each of the five broad regions: Africa and the Arab States; Asia and the Pacific; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; and North America.

The laureates of this 26th edition have been selected from among 350 candidates worldwide by an independent international jury chaired by Professor Brigitte L. Kieffer, Research Director at the Inserm Research Institute, member of the French Academy of Sciences and past laureate of L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards.

Through the excellence of their work, these laureates demonstrate that science needs women now more than ever, for example to meet major public health challenges, at a time when cases of cancer could increase by 77% by 2050, obesity affects 1 in 8 people worldwide, and there are still more than 249 million cases of malaria infection.

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LAUREATES OF THE L’ORÉAL-UNESCO INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE

LAUREATE FOR AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES

Professor Rose Leke – Immunology

Former Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Former Director of the Biotechnology Centre, University of Yaoundé 1, Cameroon

She is rewarded for her dedicated leadership, outstanding research and pioneering efforts to improve outcomes in pregnancy-associated malaria, support the eradication of polio and improve immunization in Africa, as well as for her efforts to improve the career path of young scientists. Dr Leke’s national, regional, and global influence has had a profound impact on public health in her native Cameroon and across Africa. Her achievements position her as a role model, leading educator and advocate for young female scientists.

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LAUREATE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

Professor Alicia Kowaltowski – Biochemistry

Professor of Biochemistry, University of São Paulo, Brazil

She is rewarded for her fundamental contribution to the biology of mitochondria, which are “the cell’s main energy source, acting as their batteries”. Her work has been critical for our understanding of the implication of energy metabolism in chronic diseases, including obesity and diabetes, as well as in ageing. Her outstanding contribution as an investigator and mentor, as well as her advocacy for science in Latin America and its dissemination to the public, are an inspiration for young scientists.

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LAUREATE FOR NORTH AMERICA 

Professor Nada Jabado – Human genetics

Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Human Genetics, Canada Research Chair Tier 1 in Pediatric Oncology, McGill University, Canada

She is rewarded for revolutionizing our comprehension of the genetic defects responsible for aggressive pediatric brain tumours. Her seminal discovery of the first-ever histone mutations in human disease, referred to as oncohistones, has sparked a fundamental change in the cancer research sphere. Through her innovative research and effective leadership in establishing a global collaborative network, she has reshaped the medical approach to pediatric cancer, advancing both diagnostic capabilities and clinical treatments for young patients.

LAUREATE FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

Professor Nieng Yan – Structural biology

University Professor, School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University; Founding President of Shenzhen Medical Academy of Research and Translation; Director of Shenzhen Bay Laboratory, China

She is rewarded for discovering the atomic structure of multiple membrane proteins that mediate the traffic of ions and sugars across the cell membrane, revealing principles that govern cross-membrane transport. Her exceptional research has informed multiple disorders such as epilepsy and arrhythmia and guided the treatment of pain syndrome. As a leading authority in her field, Dr Yan inspires female scientists globally and is a strong advocate for gender equality in research and science education.

LAUREATE FOR EUROPE 

Professor Geneviève Almouzni – Molecular biology

Director of Research from The National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the Curie Institute, France

She is rewarded for her seminal contributions to understanding how DNA is packaged with proteins inside the cell nucleus. Her pioneering work in epigenetics has furthered our understanding of how cell identity is determined during normal development and disrupted by cancer. Her extraordinary successes in advancing research, training the next generation of scientists and promoting women in science are inspirational.

26 YEARS OF EMPOWERING WOMEN IN SCIENCE 

Today, women still only account for one in three researchers globally (33%) according to UNESCO data. Furthermore, the glass ceiling remains a reality – in Europe only a quarter of scientific leadership roles are currently held by women. Since the creation of the Nobel Prizes for science in 1901, there have been only 25 female laureates.

For 26 years, UNESCO and the Fondation L’Oréal have worked together to promote gender equality in science through the For Women in Science International Awards and the Young Talents Programmes covering more than 140 countries, shining the spotlight on female scientists and contributing to breaking the glass ceiling in science. An sign of this is the remarkable increase (+150%) in the proportion of female laureates of the Nobel Prizes for science since 1998, compared to the previous period.

Lidia Brito, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences at UNESCO, said: “Empowering women in science is a question of equity and pragmatism. Women make up half of the population and it will take all of human ingenuity to tackle the daunting challenges we face, be it environmental degradation, climate and biodiversity disruption, pandemics, the technological divide or persistent poverty.

“It is encouraging to see a growing number of women among Nobel Prizes in science.  Since 1901, 25 women have received this distinction, among them 15 since the creation of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme in 1998. Six out of these 15 women had previously been recipients of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards before being awarded the Nobel Prize.”

Alexandra Palt, Executive Director of the Fondation L’Oréal, said: “A sustainable future for humanity depends on real equality between men and women. This is unfortunately still not the case today in science, although the world faces unprecedented challenges. The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme has ensured that this question has remained at the heart of the debate for 26 years.

“In particular, we have sought to raise the profile of research conducted by many exceptional women scientists and inspire the next generation of women researchers. The research completed by the five laureates of the 2024 International Awards delivers significant advances for the health of humanity and encourages us to continue the fight.”

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