2021 Julia Bodmer Award - Dr. Cristina Toffalori

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 EFI Conferences, it has been held by Asbjørn Christophersen (2019), Maxime Rotival (2018), James Lee (2017), Hannah Siddle (2016), and Céline René (2015). A complete list of JBA winners can be found here

This year, the selected JBA winner was Christina Toffalori from the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy. Cristina obtained a Master’s degree in medical biotechnology from the San Raffaele University in 2008, with a thesis on the role of neutralizing antibodies in HIV infection. This prompted her to apply for a PhD in Molecular Biology at the same University, to work with Luca Vago on non-genomic mechanisms of HLA-deregulation as immune escape mechanism in leukemia relapses after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. After brilliantly graduating in 2013, Cristina decided to stay on as postdoctoral research fellow in Luca’s group. Further pursuit of the studies initiated during her thesis unraveled distinct immune signatures of post-transplant leukemia relapse, involving either downregulation of MHC class II or upregulation of inhibitory checkpoints. These findings, published in Nature Medicine in 2019, have obvious important implications for post-transplant relapse diagnostics and therapy, and have received much scientific and mediatic attention.

Since unfortunately we could not hand over the Award personally to Cristina during the Opening Cermony of the EFI Conference, this was done in Milan by her mentor Luca Vago, himself a Julia Bodmer Awardee back in 2009 - good auspices for the future of science in EFI.

Katharina Fleischhauer – on behalf of the EFI Scientific Committee