Professor Robert Kelsh, of the Department of Life Sciences, has been named the winner of the 2023 Myron Gordon Award by the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies (IFPCS). He receives the award to mark his lab’s studies using zebrafish genetics to help understand how pigment cells develop. By learning more about what makes these cells develop, we can see how similar processes control the formation of other cells, and how they can go wrong in diseases like cancer.

The IFPCS is the major international society for researchers interested in pigment cells and pigment cell cancers, like melanoma. Pigment cells are the cells that determine the colour of skin, hair and scales. Awarded every three years, their Myron Gordon Award recognises scientists for distinguished and outstanding contributions to the field.

Throughout his career, Professor Kelsh has explored problems of developmental biology. Using zebrafish as a model organism, his group has revealed key mechanisms that control the development of a functional organism from a fertilised egg. A key focus has been on the mechanisms controlling the differentiation of neural crest stem cells. These are an important group of stem cells that generate a host of specialist cell-types like neurons, pigment cells and cartilage cells.

Using zebrafish genetics, Robert and his team are looking at what makes these stem cells differentiate and take on their individual roles in the body. This, in turn, can shed light on general mechanisms of stem cell differentiation, and on the causes of diseases like cancer.

The award is named in memory of Myron Gordon, an American biologist and geneticist. He became an expert on freshwater platyfish through his pioneering cancer research in the 1920s.

Previous notable winners of the award include dermatologist, Thomas B. Fitzpatrick; pioneering cancer epidemiologist, Eleanor Josephine Macdonald; and the first president of the IFPCS, Yutaka Mishima.