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January 29, 2015

2015 Japan Prize Honors Innovator in River Engineering and Gene Therapy Pioneers

Dr. Yutaka Takahasi helped reduce water-related disasters, Drs. Theodore Friedmann and Alain Fischer were the world’s firsts to propose and clinically prove gene therapy concept

TOKYO (January 29, 2015) - The Japan Prize Foundation today announced that it has selected three distinguished scientists as winners of the Japan Prize, now in its 31st year, that is awarded annually to scientists and researchers in two categories who, regardless of nationality, made substantial contributions to their fields and advancement of science and technology as well as serving the cause of peace and prosperity of mankind.

Dr. Yutaka Takahasi of Japan won the Japan Prize in the field of “Resources, Energy and Social Infrastructure” for his contribution to “development of innovative concept on river basin management and reduction of water-related disasters” as noted in the prize citation. Dr. Theodore Friedmann of the United States and Dr. Alain Fischer of France were recognized in the field of “Medical Science and Medicinal Science” for their “proposal of the concept of gene therapy and its clinical applications.”

Dr. Takahasi, Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo, drew his attention early on to the relation between water-related disasters and society. Based on his extensive fieldwork and data analysis on floods, he urged in the 1970s a drastic change in water control policies that were focused on physical infrastructure such as banks. He proposed an integrated flood management approach that includes rivers as well as environment and human communities in river basins. His concept laid the foundation for the 1997 amendment to Japan’s River Act, which is still known as one of the most advanced river-related legislations in the world. Overseas, Dr. Takahasi dedicated himself to fostering regional cooperation and development of human resources in the Asian monsoon region, where the environment and social structures are similar to Japan. His ideas were incorporated into concrete measures in the region and led to significant reduction in flood disasters and improvement of the river environment.

Dr. Friedmann, currently Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Diego, School of Medicine, proposed the concept of gene therapy in the 1970s and pioneered the early phase of basic research in the field. Regarded internationally as the “father of gene therapy,” he has also been at the vanguard of ethical issues surrounding this field as an opinion leader for the past 40 years. On the other hand, Dr. Fischer used hematopoietic stem cell gene therapy to treat children with a fatal genetic disorder called X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, or X-SCID, and has clinically demonstrated efficacy of gene therapy with dramatic effectiveness for the first time in the world - realizing what was once thought to be a miracle cure. Dr. Fischer has been Director of Institut Imagine in Paris, a leading research institute on genetic diseases, since 2007 and Professor at Collège de France since 2014.

The Foundation will host an award ceremony to honor the laureates of the 2015 Japan Prize on April 23 in Tokyo. Each of them will receive a certificate of recognition and a commemorative gold medal. A cash award of 50 million Japanese yen (approximately US$420,000) will also be given to each prize field.

Currently, the Foundation is in the initial stage of the nomination process for the 2016 Japan Prize, asking its selected nominators across the globe to turn in the names and achievements of the candidates who they think deserve the prestigious international prize in the fields of “Materials and Production” and “Biological Production and Biological Environment.” The submission deadline is the end of February 2015.

About Japan Prize Foundation
Since its inception in 1985, the Japan Prize Foundation has awarded the Japan Prize to 83 people from 13 countries. In addition to awarding the Japan Prize, which is endorsed by the Japanese government, the Foundation has been hosting "Easy-to-Understand Science and Technology" seminars and awarding research grants to help nurture young scientists and further promote the advancement of science and technology. For additional details about the Japan Prize Foundation and its activities, please visit http://www.japanprize.jp/en.

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