René Bernards and Wil Roebroeks to receive Academy's lifetime achievement award

6 May 2013

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has named René Bernards and Wil Roebroeks as the recipients of this year’s Academy Professor Prizes.

René Bernards is a molecular oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (Amsterdam) and a part-time professor of molecular carcinogenesis at Utrecht University. Wil Roebroeks is a professor of archaeology at Leiden University. Both researchers will receive the sum of EUR 1 million, which they can use at their discretion to fund scholarly or scientific research.

About the Academy Professor Prize

The Academy confers two separate Academy Professor Prizes a year, one to a researcher in the social sciences or humanities, and the other to a researcher in the natural, technical or life sciences. The Prize is intended as a lifetime achievement award for researchers who are between 54 and 59 years of age and regarded as world-class in their field. The Ministry of Economic Affairs makes a contribution towards the prize. The two recipients were selected by an international jury appointed by the Royal Academy. The Prizes will be awarded on Thursday 27 June at the Academy’s Trippenhuis Building in Amsterdam.

About René Bernards

René Bernards conducts pioneering research into genetic differences between tumours. He has been awarded the Prize for his trailblazing work showing that every cancer patient, indeed every tumour, is unique and that medical science needs to adapt treatment and medicines to such individual differences.

Thanks to a genetic test that he helped develop, doctors can now predict the likelihood of recurrent metastatic breast cancer in patients and whether an aggressive course of chemotherapy is advisable after surgery. The test spares thousands of low-risk patients the devastating effects of aggressive chemotherapy and saves millions of euros that would otherwise have been spent on pointless treatment for this group.

Bernards is the head of the Division of Molecular Carcinogenesis at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and a part-time professor at Utrecht University. One of his greatest achievements is that he has developed a method of using RNA interference to silence thousands of individual genes in cancer cells. This method makes it possible to quickly identify precisely which of the thousands of genes in certain tumours have been deregulated, which in turn helps determine the medicines to which the genes will respond.

René Bernards (1953) studied biology at the University of Amsterdam and received his doctorate at Leiden University in 1984. After spending seven years at various prestigious American institutes, he accepted a position with the Netherlands Cancer Institute in 1992.

In addition to his academic duties, he and fellow researcher Laura van ’t Veer founded the diagnostics company Agendia in 2003, which focuses on the clinical application of their fundamental research findings. According to fellow researchers, Bernards is one of the world’s best in his field. He has published numerous articles in top journals such as Nature and Science and has received more than 30,000 citations in other publications. He has also chalked up an impressive number of grants, keynote lectures and prizes, including the 2005 Spinoza Prize. René Bernards is a member of the Royal Academy.

About Wil Roebroeks

According to the jury, Wil Roebroeks is the Netherlands’ most influential archaeologist. His work extends from early human evolution to the migration of the Neanderthals and modern man across Europe and the rest of the world.

Roebroeks studies traces of human activity hundreds of thousands of years ago in the Early Stone Age, for example celts, arrowheads and evidence of man-made fire. The international jury praises Roebroeks’ ability to challenge prevailing theories about pre-historic human existence, guided by critical, detailed multidisciplinary field observations and an acute awareness that archaeologists must attempt to reconstruct the past from fragmentary evidence. When dictated by his own observations or those of researchers in adjoining disciplines, Roebroeks does not hesitate to formulate new, comprehensive and often unorthodox hypotheses that spark off controversy in the international scientific world. For example, he has openly questioned the “Out of Africa” theory of early hominin migration, and has argued plausibly that the earliest Northern Europeans managed to survive without fire. Unlike many researchers before him, he believes the Neanderthals were an intelligent and communicative species. Throughout his career, Roebroeks has published a notably large number of articles in key journals. In the jury’s view, the quality of his publications continues to grow along with their number.

Wil Roebroeks (1955) has been a Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Leiden University since 1996. He is also the scientific director of Archon Research School of Archaeology and the vice-president of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution (ESHE).

Roebroeks initially graduated in social and economic history but took his doctorate in archaeology. He received his PhD in 1989 for research on extrapolating theories about the behaviour of early hominins from fragmentary finds. He received a PIONIER grant in 1993 from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and was awarded the Spinoza Prize in 2007. Wil Roebroeks is a member of the Royal Academy.