TECH Chinese neuroscientist wins 2022 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards


Chinese neuroscientist wins 2022 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards


20:04, June 25, 2022

Hu Hailan, laureate of the 2022 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards, gives a lecture at the French Academy of Sciences, June 21, 2022. /CGTN

Chinese neuroscientist Hu Hailan, 49, has won the 2022 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards for her work on depression, which has contributed to the development of the next-generation drugs to treat the disease, according to the UN body.

She and four other woman scientists received the awards at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on Thursday evening.

Hu, professor and executive director of the Neuroscience Center of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, is the youngest recipient of the award this year, and the seventh Chinese winner of the award.

UNESCO said she was recognized for her "pioneering discoveries in neurobiology that have revolutionized our understanding of social emotional behavior and mental disorders."

The awards, established by UNESCO and Foundation L'Oréal in 1998, are presented annually to five outstanding female scientists, who have contributed to overcoming today's global challenges through their work.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO had not held any offline ceremonies for the awards over the past two years. Ten winners of the 2020 and 2021 awards were also present at Thursday's ceremony.

Hu told CGTN that the award was recognition for a long line of women scientists.

"Chinese women scientists are 'blooming' and everyone is racing to get better. We're seeing so many leading scientists in so many fields, including for this award," she said.

"I'm honored to join the ranks of those icons. They've been my heroes and inspired me in my work. I hope to pass on that encouragement to other young women and share our love for science.

"There is no better career than being a scientist for me. You are sponsored and encouraged to do what you love."

Hu also explained the mission that drives her work.

She cited a World Health Organization (WHO) figure in 2017, which showed that the Burden of Disease (BoD, a barometer that gauges the overall impact of a disease) for depression had overtaken that for cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

"And that's before COVID-19 hit," she said, adding that recent studies have pointed to higher rates of depression. "It's a very big problem."

"And I think every scientist shares this sense of mission … wanting your research to be meaningful and to improve people's health and quality of life.”

Who were the other winners?

Coming from fields including biochemistry and infectious diseases, this year's laureates are noted for work that has proven particularly meaningful in the last few years.

The other four scientists honored in 2022 are Professor Agnès Binagwaho, professor of pediatrics and vice-chancellor of global health at Equity University in Rwanda; Professor María Guzmán, director of the Research Center of the Pedro Kouri Institute (IPK) Institute of Tropical Medicine in Cuba; Professor Katalin Karikó, adjunct professor at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and senior vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals in the U.S.; and Professor Ángela Nieto from the Institute of Neuroscience (CSIC-UMH) in Spain.

Alexandra Palt, chief corporate responsibility officer at L'Oréal and CEO of the Foundation L'Oréal, said the scientists shared some common traits.

"Their perseverance, their ability to overcome obstacles and resilience have been admirable," she told CGTN. "And they are all so humble."

She said it's necessary for the scientists to get the exposure and recognition they deserve.

"Women scientists have played such an important role, but they are less visible than men," She said. "We need their presence."

"And more of them should be in leadership roles," she said, adding that the younger generation of women scientists globally are becoming more outspoken and inching towards that goal.

Hu Hailan said more than half of her own students are women now. In some years, the proportion is over 70 percent.

"My suggestion to women in science has a lot to do with my own experience: do what you love and excel in, and stick to it." Hu said. "That would be the most rewarding, not only in terms of efficiency, but also how you feel."

She also said now is among the best times to be a scientist.

"We could be at a tipping point for explosive findings in biology. We're ever closer to uncovering new secrets now."

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