Julia Bodmer Award 2019 – Dr. Asbjørn Christophersen

On behalf of the EFI Scientific Committee by Prof Katharina Fleischhauer (Chair)

The first Scientific Lecture at the Opening Ceremony of the annual EFI Conference is given by a young scientist winner of the Julia Bodmer Award (JBA). This Award was created in memory of Lady Julia Bodmer (1934-2001), one of the founders of H&I and a mentor to EFI, which she served as President from 1996 to 1998. Julia was well aware of the importance of young scientists for the future of our field, and was known for her encouragement and support to younger generations. The JBA winner is selected by majority voting within the EFI Scientific Committee, in a competitive review process between the applications filed. The first JBA Lecture was delivered in 2002 by Benedicte Lee. Over the last five years, it has been held by Maxime Rotival (2018), James Lee (2017), Hannah Siddle (2016), Céline René (2015), and Clemens Hermann (2014). A complete list of JBA winners can be found here.

This year, among six excellent applications from five different countries, the selected JBA winner was Asbjørn Christophersen, an MD PhD from the Celiac Disease Center in Oslo.

Asbjørn obtained his MD from the University of Tübingen in Germany, and then moved back to his home country Norway to complete his clinical training in internal medicine. In 2010, he joined the group of Prof. Ludvig Sollid at the University of Oslo, for a PhD on the Immunology of Celiac Disease, which he completed with honors in 2015. During this time, he developed a novel diagnostic test for celiac disease, using HLA-DQ tetramers to detect gluten-specific T cells even under gluten-free diet, thereby eliminating the need for gluten challenge until then necessary for diagnosis. Moreover, he was able to trace the T cell receptors of gluten-specific T cells in patients, showing that these contain public clonotypes shared between patients and persist for years after diagnosis.

Under Funding from the Fulbright Foundation, Asbjørn then moved for a year as postdoctoral fellow to Mark Davis’ laboratory in Stanford. There he combined the gluten-specific tetramer technique with mass cytometry and RNA sequencing to identify a new phenotype of T cells endowed with autoimmune capacities, which is not specific for celiac disease but is present also in other autoimmune disorders. These data have obvious potential clinical relevance and were recently published in Nature Medicine.

Asbjørn is a clinician scientist who combines his knowledge in the functional principles of H&I with cutting edge technologies, to make groundbreaking discoveries with direct clinical translation. In his JBA presentation, he brilliantly conveyed his findings to the EFI community. We look forward to see more of his contributions in years to come.