The Nencki Award 2010
Ernesto Carafoli, born in Italy in 1932, received his M.D. degree (1957) from the University of Modena and later his habilitation in general pathology (1965) and biochemistry (1968). In the 1960s he has gotten a post-doc and then a visiting lecturer position in the Department of Physiological Chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore MD, USA), headed by Albert L. Lehninger. After returning to Italy, he was awarded professorship at the Universities of Modena and Padua. In 1973 he was appointed Professor of Biochemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where for 25 years he has chaired the Department of Biochemistry. Under his leadership the Department soon became a leader in research on calcium metabolism. After retiring in 1998, Ernesto Carafoli returned to Italy and has continued his scientific work at the University of Padua.
Professor Carafoli is a world-renown specialist in the role of calcium as signalling molecule in cell metabolism as well as in Ca2+ transport across biological membranes. He is also an expert in calcium homeostasis in the cell and the role of Ca2+ in the regulation of cellular metabolism. Carafoli was one of the first to discover energy-dependent accumulation of calcium within mitochondria. He studied the calcium pump of the plasma membrane and contributed to its isolation, purification and characterization as an enzyme (“Ca2+-pumping ATPase”). More recently, Ernesto Carafoli studied various aspects of Ca2+ function as signalling molecule, in particular in the nucleus.
Professor Carafoli chaired the International Cell Research Organization and occupied leading positions in a number of other international research organizations and consulting bodies. He served on editorial boards of several professional journals. At present, he is a member of the Editorial Board of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.
Professor Carafoli’s close contacts with Polish scientists date to the late 1960s when he first visited various Polish universities and research institutes under the so-called “twin cities programme” (Modena – Lublin). At that time he discovered common fields of interest with researchers of the Nencki Institute. One of the first results of this collaboration was the joint organization with Professor Witold Drabikowski of the first international conference on calcium binding proteins in Jabłonna on the outskirts of Warsaw in 1973.
Ernesto Carafoli’s laboratory in Zurich hosted several researchers from the Nencki Institute, either as post-docs or short-time visitors. During the martial law in Poland (December 1981) Professor Carafoli protected and supported Polish scientists who happened to find themselves in Switzerland.