September 26, 2022

FMI science prizes — winners 2022

The three FMI internal science prizes are awarded yearly and recognize respectively the best thesis, the best postdoc study and an ingenious new method or tool. The prizes 2022 were awarded last week at the FMI Annual Meeting, in Grindelwald, in the Swiss Alps. Read more about the winners and their projects.


This prize recognizes the best thesis defended by an FMI student in the previous year. It is named after Edmond H. Fischer (1920-2021) who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1992 and was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the FMI for many years.

Simon D’Aquin, a former PhD student in the Lüthi lab and now a postdoc at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich, was awarded the Ed Fischer Prize 2021 for his thesis entitled “Compartment-specific plasticity in the lateral amygdala during fear learning”.

The committee was impressed by the quality of his written thesis and how he overcame technical challenges to perform his experiments that revealed fundamental insight into the in vivo cellular and circuit mechanisms underlying associative learning. 

Simon studied the activity of neurons over days in the amygdala of awake mice as they are undergoing classical fear conditioning. In this form of associative learning, mice learn to associate a tone with a following light electroshock. He used deep-brain imaging with high resolution microscopy to visualize these neurons and how their activity changed with learning. He found that these changes (“plasticity”) were localized to specific parts of a neuron. Simon’s work allows for a better understanding of the neuronal circuits in the amygdala that underly associative learning, and possibly how these circuits enhance an animal’s behavioral flexibility in the face of danger.

»  Read the Science publication about Simon’s work


The Max Burger Prize, which recognizes an outstanding paper by a postdoctoral fellow in the previous year, is named after Max M. Burger (1933-2019) who was Director of the FMI for almost 15 years, from 1987 until 2001.

Maria Sol Fustiñana and Yael Bitterman from the Lüthi lab were both awarded the Max Burger Prize 2022 for a major discovery that was published in the journal Nature. The researchers found that different populations of neurons in the amygdala – the brain’s emotional center – display opposing activation patterns when mice switch between interacting with their peers or exploring their surroundings and self-centered behaviors such as grooming. The findings could help to understand how the activity pattern of groups of neurons sets an overall ‘brain state’, and how that influences behavior – including social interaction and other behaviors that are impaired in neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism and social anxiety.

Original publication:
Maria Sol Fustiñana, Tobias Eichlisberger, Tewis Bouwmeester, Yael Bitterman & Andreas Lüthi State-dependent encoding of exploratory behavior in the amygdala (open access link) Nature 592 267-271 (2021)

» Read more about the study 


This prize recognizes scientists who developed an innovative new method or tool in their field that has had significant impact and shows high creativity and thinking outside the box. The award is named after Ruth Chiquet-Ehrismann (1954-2015) who was a group leader at the FMI (1985-2015) and was successful at pursuing non-mainstream topics that nonetheless had major biomedical impact.

Jessica Zuin, a postdoc in the Giorgetti lab, was awarded the Ruth Chiquet Prize 2022. Jessica developed an ingenious experimental approach combined with mathematical modelling to study the physical interactions between a gene and its distal genomic regulatory regions called enhancers. She found that gene expression levels depend on interaction frequencies with an enhancer, establishing general principles for the role of chromosome structure in long-range transcriptional regulation.

The committee very much liked the elegant molecular design of her study (transposon-driven random integration of an enhancer combined with a quantitative transcriptional readout) which was of high practical value for studying functional interactions between enhancers and promoters, and led to a major publication.

» Read more about the study


The FMI science prizes were awarded during the FMI Annual Meeting, which for the first time in three years could be hold again as in the past, as a 2.5 day-meeting in a village in the Swiss Alp, this year in Grindelwald. Over 220 FMI scientists, several scientists from Novartis and the members of the FMI Scientific Advisory Board attended the event. The program included scientific talks by FMI PhD students and postdocs; a keynote lecture by Prof. Brenda Schulman, MPI Martinsried, Germany; two poster sessions; an afternoon of alpine recreational activities; a gala dinner including entertainment. The winners of the Fischer Prize, Burger Prize  and Chiquet Prize were recognized and hold their award lecture during the gala dinner. 

You can learn more about the event and see photos on Twitter, #FMIAM2022.


FMI Simon D'Aquin

FMI Maria Sol Fustinana

FMI Jessica Zuin

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