Sophie Dumont Wins the $250,000 Byers Award for Basic Science

Sophie Dumont, an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Franciso, won the 2021 Byers Award for Basic Science. Established with a philanthropic gift from Brook and Shawn Byers and their sons Blake and Chad, the Byers Award is given annually to recognize outstanding research by a mid-career faculty member. A long-time member of the UCSF Foundation Board of Directors, Brook Byers called scientists his personal heroes and said this year the Byers family will increase the award to $250,000 in hopes of accelerating the scientific process.

As the Byers Award winner, Dr. Dumont recently delivered the 2021 Byers Award Lecture entitled “An Orchestra Without a Conductor: A Symphony of Dividing Chromosomes.” Her research focuses on finding out how, as well whether therapeutic targets exist to ensure equal – and healthy – division of chromosomes. As she notes, even after more than 100 years of study, much is still unknown about cell division, a process that occurs in each body a trillion times a day. “Cells have one supremely important role: to equally divide their chromosomes. If they fail in that process, birth defects or cancer can result,” Dr. Dumont said. “While we know the parts required for cells to accurately divide chromosomes, we don’t understand how they work together to prevent mistakes – and how they fail.”

The Dumont Lab focuses on the spindle, a “machine” operating in the middle of the cell to segregate chromosomes and ensures each new cell receives a full set of the genome to perform its function in our bodies whether it’s replication or repair. If the spindle performs its task poorly and gives a new cell the wrong number of chromosomes, the result often is disease. Dumont and her team want to know: How does the spindle build itself? How does it know how to divide its chromosomes equally? And conversely, how do mistakes occur?

A native of Quebec, Dr. Dumont is a graduate of Princeton University in New Jersey, where she majored in physics. She earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of California Berkeley. Dr. Dumont joined the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco in 2012.

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