September 8, 2016

Cloëtta Prize awarded to Andreas Lüthi

Andreas Lüthi, Senior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) and Professor at the University of Basel, has been awarded the 2016 Cloëtta Prize for medical research. The Prize, worth CHF 50,000, honors scientists who have made outstanding contributions to medical research.

Andreas Lüthi, a renowned neurobiologist at the FMI in Basel, has received the Cloëtta Prize for groundbreaking work, which has improved our understanding of the brain processes associated with anxiety and fear.

Though sometimes used interchangeably, the terms “anxiety” and “fear” need to be distinguished: fear is a response to an imminent, clearly defined threat, which takes the form of freezing, fight or flight. In contrast, anxiety is a complex emotional reaction to a diffuse threat with no immediate trigger; this makes it more difficult to study.

The almond-shaped brain structure known as the amygdala plays a key role in the processing of fear and anxiety.

Andreas Lüthi and his group at the FMI, investigating processes of both kinds, have identified and characterized neural circuits and types of neurons within the amygdala which trigger anxiety and fear and influence the strength of these responses.

Particularly in the case of anxiety disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder), responses of this kind cannot be adequately controlled. Around 10% of all adults are affected by anxiety disorders. One of the main characteristics of these conditions is that patients have “learned” to fear situations or objects to an extent that is disproportionate to the actual threat. While the available treatment options remain inadequate, Lüthi’s findings can help to improve our understanding of how anxiety disorders develop – and suggest potential therapeutic approaches.

In addition, more generally, his research has advanced our understanding of learning processes in the brain.

The purpose of the Professor Max Cloëtta Foundation is to support and promote medical research. Once a year, a prize is awarded to honor personalities who have made outstanding contributions in certain fields of medical research. Previous winners have included the FMI Group Leaders Denis Monard, George Thomas and Brian Hemmings, as well as the Nobel laureates Susumu Tonegawa and Rolf Zinkernagel.

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