A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white lab coat and safety glasses. She stands next to a complex scientific machine.
Professor Dame Carol Robinson is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for pioneering new methods in mass spectrometry to elucidate the structures and interactions of proteins. Image credit: The European Patent Office.

Dame Carol Robinson to receive Lifetime Achievement Award for groundbreaking protein analysis work

The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced that Dame Carol Robinson, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award during the European Inventor Award 2024 ceremony on 9 July in Malta. The award recognises Professor Robinson’s ground-breaking work in mass spectrometry, advancing drug discovery, and personalised medicine.

Professor Steve Faulkner, Head of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, said: ‘I am delighted to congratulate Carol on receiving this award and I am sure that her trailblazing example will continue to inspire students and young scientists here in Oxford and beyond.  This award acknowledges a career full of achievements and we look forward to many more.’

As a scientist, I've always been quite fearless about going in my own direction. That has been my mantra throughout my career. I never wanted to follow the crowd.

Professor Dame Carol Robinson, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford

Breaking new ground in biochemistry

A trailblazer in the field of mass spectrometry (an analytical tool used to identify the composition of chemical substances), Professor Robinson has pioneered innovative new techniques that have significantly improved the study of proteins, offering insights into their complex structures and interactions. In particular, her development of thenative mass spectrometry' method has transformed protein analysis. This technique preserves proteins in their natural state, allowing scientists to gain detailed insights into their functions and interactions without altering their structures, which was not possible with conventional mass spectrometry.

Initially, Professor Robinson’s early work faced scepticism, as it challenged the prevailing belief that proteins could not maintain their structure outside of water. However, her determination and innovative approach proved that protein interactions could indeed be preserved and studied in the gaseous state. This enables precise measurements and analyses of protein complexes that play critical roles in various diseases – a breakthrough which paves the way for the development of targeted medications that can address disease mechanisms more effectively than ever before.

Professor Robinson said: ‘The future vision for this field is to contribute to much more tailored, personalised solutions. The depression example is a very good one because we really don't have a clear idea of what's wrong in many depression cases. That was what drove a whole programme of research.’

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white lab coat and safety glasses, in a laboratory. She holds a pipette and is surrounded by equipment used for chemistry experiments.Professor Dame Carol Robinson. Image credit: The European Patent Office.
An entrepreneurial trailblazer

Beyond her academic and research milestones, Professor Robinson’s entrepreneurial aspirations also led her to co-found OMass Therapeutics in 2016. This venture leverages her mass spectrometry innovations to develop novel drugs targeting membrane proteins and protein complexes implicated in disease, such as the MC2 receptor in congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare endocrine disorder. Professor Robinson's innovative application of mass spectrometry in drug development is improving the probability of success against hard to drug targets in diseases with high unmet medical needs. Her work not only advances scientific understanding but also provides the foundation for new therapeutic strategies that could improve the lives of patients worldwide.

Professor Robinson’s career also stands as a pillar for gender diversity in STEM. After taking a career break of eight years to bring up her three children, she broke barriers by becoming the first full female Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge (2001), then the University of Oxford (2009). In 2021, she became Director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery at the University of Oxford.

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white lab coat stands in a laboratory with three young students – two female, one male – also wearing lab coats.Professor Robinson has been an inspiring mentor to many. Image credit: The European Patent Office.
In addition, Professor Robinson’s commitment to mentorship has inspired numerous postgraduate students and early-career scientists. In recognition of her lifelong dedication and her role as a mentor, she has received numerous accolades, including being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences USA. The European Inventor Award 2024 for Lifetime Achievement not only celebrates Professor Dame Carol Robinson’s scientific achievements but also her profound impact on the scientific community and society at large.

The EPO will announce the winners of the other categories, whose finalists have recently been unveiled, during a ceremony livestreamed from Malta on 9 July 2024. In addition to each category, the EPO will reveal the Popular Prize winner, chosen by online public vote. Voting will remain open until the day of the ceremony.

Find more information about the invention’s impact, the technology, and the inventor’s story here.