A NORTH-East scientist has won a prestigious award for her groundbreaking contributions to research which could be used in treating leukaemia and other diseases, as well as reduce the risk of miscarriage.

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, from Newcastle University and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, has won the 2019 Foulkes Foundation Medal, awarded to a rising star making a significant impact on UK biomedical research.

Her achievements include providing a better understanding of the developing human immune system and childhood kidney cancer, mapping the maternal-fetal interface and discovering new immune cells in the skin.

Professor Haniffa said: “I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard that I was this year’s winner of the Foulkes Foundation Medal - I am thrilled! This award makes me feel increasingly driven to discover more about the immune system, by creating open access cell maps which can be used to better understand health and disease.”

The Foulkes Foundation Medal is awarded biennially by The Academy of Medical Sciences to a rising star for contributing important and significant scientific impacts to the biomedical field before, or in, their first independent position.

Just last month, Professor Haniffa and her collaborators announced the completion of the first ever cell map of the developing immune system in the human liver, skin and kidney, which will be used to tackle things like leukaemia and diseases of the immune system, as well as having implications for regenerative medicine.

Professor Haniffa is also one of the pioneers behind the Human Cell Atlas, a global initiative which aims to map and characterise every cell in the body and was involved in work to create the first ever single-cell reconstruction of the maternal-fetal interface, which could lead to the development of techniques to reduce the risk of miscarriage and prevent conditions like pre-eclampsia.

The Human Cell Atlas has also contributed to the identification of the prenatal cellular origin of Wilm’s tumour, a childhood kidney cancer most often found in children under the age of seven.

With this knowledge, doctors may be able to treat children suffering from this type of cancer with a more targeted approach in the future, leading to quicker and better recoveries.

Maureen Foulkes-Hajdu, chairman of the Foulkes Foundation, said: “It gives me enormous pleasure to present the 2019 Foulkes Foundation Medal to Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, an outstanding young, woman scientist who has played a key role in several fundamental science world firsts.

“I know she is working on further breakthrough research and eagerly await the results in due course.”

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Professor Haniffa shows how multidisciplinary research can reap huge rewards for our understanding of the human body.

“I am impressed that she prioritises team science, mentoring and engaging with the public alongside her cutting edge research.

“Her recent cell atlas of the immune system is open access, allowing other researchers to benefit from the research. We need more scientists who can bring this spirit, knowledge and skill to their work.

“I am delighted that Professor Haniffa has been recognised by the Foulkes Foundation as the rising star that she quite clearly is.”