Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Richard Henderson awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Following the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Babraham Institute would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Richard Henderson, a long-term friend and Emeritus Trustee of the Institute. This marks the second time that a past member of the Institute’s Board of Trustees has been recognised with a Nobel Prize; Sir Martin Evans shared the Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007.

The 2017 prize, which Henderson shares equally with Joachim Frank and Jacques Dubochet, recognises their contributions to the development and application of a vital research technique called cryo-electron microscopy or cryo-EM. This technique uses streams of electrons, rather than light, to examine microscopic samples. By using computers, this information can be processed into a particularly detailed image of the shapes and structures of proteins and other complex chemicals inside cells.

Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute, who worked alongside Henderson during his time as a Trustee, said: “An accomplished and highly-skilled scientist, Richard Henderson is a hugely deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His ground-breaking work on developing cryo-electron microscopy and its use in solving the structures of proteins has been truly transformative in our understanding of biology. Richard has consistently made important contributions to science and the UK scientific community. I am proud to know him and grateful for his contributions to the Institute.”

A team led by Jaques Dubochet first devised cryo-EM in the 1980s. Joachim Frank and colleagues aided the development of the computer processing and Richard Henderson came up with the idea of using cryo-EM to study molecular structures. Since its discovery, cryo-EM has allowed researchers around the world to study biology in unprecedented detail and has made ground-breaking contributions across all aspects of the life sciences. In particular, cryo-EM made it possible to study flexible molecules – ones which change over time – which could not be easily studied using other available methods.

Understanding how molecules behave inside cells is potentially important in helping to design new diagnostic tools and treatments. By learning to alter how molecules interact inside cells, it may be possible to help people affected by a wide range of diseases.

Henderson was educated at Cambridge and Yale. Since 1973 he has been based at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge where he was Director from 1996 until 2006. He leads a team in the Structural Studies Division. More information about Henderson’s contributions to cryo-EM can be found on the LMB website. The Prize announcement is available on the Nobel Prize website.


Dr Jonathan Lawson, Babraham Institute Communications Manager

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to undertake world-class life sciences research. Its goal is to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Research focuses on signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing.


6 October, 2017