February 13, 2023
Congratulations to our 2022 fellows
FMI researchers are awarded competitive grants and fellowship throughout the year, which speaks for the quality and potential of their work. Here we present FMI postdocs and other young scientists who received fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2022 that will support their research projects and career plans.
LUKAS ANNESER — EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship
(EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowships support young scientists who have demonstrated excellence in their fields throughout Europe and the world for a period of up to two years).
Lukas grew up in Bavaria, Germany and did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt. He joined the Friedrich group as a postdoc in 2021.
At all times, many different neuromodulators, such as dopamine or serotonin, are released within the brain and change information processing. Mostly, these modulators are studied in isolation because their interactions are incredibly complex. In his project, Lukas aims to map the combinatorial logic of modulation in a specific part of the vertebrate forebrain and try to decipher how the modulators interact to enable cognitive behavior. Deeper insight into combinatorial neuromodulation will help us to understand how brain states are induced and maintained, and how the manipulation of cell membrane receptors called GPCRs — the main target of many modulatory systems and of about 35 % of all approved drugs — alters brain physiology.
NIKOLAS KARALIS — SNSF Ambizione Grant
(SNSF Ambizione Grants are aimed at young researchers who wish to conduct, manage and lead an independent project at a Swiss higher education institution).
Nikolas was born in Athens, Greece and holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Germany. He became a postdoc in the Lüthi lab in 2018.
He is studying how neuromodulators influence the neuronal activity and the communication between brain regions during behavior. His research will help to answer fundamental questions about the organization of brain circuits, which could pave the way for novel therapeutic approaches, for example to treat anxiety disorders.
Nikolas has used parts of his grant to recruit a research technician to work with him on this project. He is currently preparing to launch his own research group in the near future.
AXEL LABORIEUX — SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowship
(Due to Switzerland's current status as a non-associated third country in the Horizon Europe program, scientists based in Switzerland can currently not apply for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship. The SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowships have been launched as an alternative).
Axel grew up in France. He defended his PhD at the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, University Paris Saclay in the fall of 2021 and joined the Zenke lab as a postdoc soon after.
The goal of his research project is to better understand the link between connectivity motifs and functions in neural circuits. He is using a machine learning approach to bridge the gap between small circuits where the low-level functions are better understood, and large circuits to test the predictive processing hypothesis. Modelling the link between simple functions and small neuronal circuit motifs is our best chance to understand, and scale to, more abstract functions and dysfunctions of larger neuronal circuits in the brain.
LEONARDO LUPORI— EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship
Leonardo is Italian and just completed his PhD at the Scuola Noramle Superiore in Pisa, Italy. He will become a postdoc in the Keller group on March 1, 2023.
In pathological conditions, the brain has the capacity of creating illusory sensory percepts in absence of any external stimulus — these phenomena are called hallucinations. Antipsychotics are drugs routinely used to reduce such symptoms, however, we still know little about their effect on the neuronal circuits of the cerebral cortex. In his research project, Leonardo will dissect how neuronal activity and cortical computations are affected by antipsychotic treatment. Comprehending the effects of antipsychotics on the brain, will both advance our mechanistic understanding of such drugs and may prove to be a good starting point for unveiling the neuronal substrates of conscious perception.
MATHIAS MAHN — SNSF Ambizione Grant
Mathias grew up in Germany and did his PhD at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. He joined the Lüthi group as a postdoc in 2018.
In his research project, Mathias is examining the long-range connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in mice during value assignment and decision-making. The insights he aims to gain will advance our understanding of emotional processing — and of the dysregulations that may affect it.
Mathias is keen on recruiting a PhD student during the current FMI PhD admission round to work with him on the project.
STEPHEN METHOT — SNSF Ambizione Grant
Stephen is originally from Vancouver in Canada and holds both a Canadian and a Cypriot citizenship. After his PhD at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, he joined the FMI in 2017; he was first in the lab of Susan Gasser and moved to the lab of Helge Grosshans in 2021.
Stephen wants to understand how animals can achieve and restrict dynamic changes to chromatin during development, and specifically which factors are necessary to coordinate changes over time and how cell identity is maintained. He also wants to study what happens in animals when these processes are disrupted. This work is important because we know very little about the dynamics of chromatin in living animals, yet perturbations to these systems are associated with many diseases such as cancer and aging.
Stephen is planning to recruit a PhD student during the current FMI PhD admission round and is setting up some collaborations to advance his project.
ALICIA MICHAEL — University of Basel Research Fund Junior Researchers grant and LS2 PI of Tomorrow Jury Prize
(The University of Basel Research Fund Junior Researchers grants are aimed at junior researchers at the University of Basel who wish to pursue an academic career and who have already distinguished themselves through their outstanding achievements).
Alicia is originally from Washington State, USA and holds a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She joined the Thomä lab as a postdoc in 2017. In February, she will begin a postdoc in the lab of Ben Engel at the Biozentrum while applying for independent positions.
Alicia was awarded the grant from the University of Basel to translate in vitro studies of chromatin into the cellular context, specifically to study the circadian-controlled structural transitions of the nucleus in green alga — the focus of her postdoc at the Biozentrum.
Last year Alicia was also awarded the LS2 PI of Tomorrow Jury Prize for her research plan focused on understanding how the interplay between transcriptional regulatory complexes and chromatin shapes the eukaryotic genome to control gene expression in the circadian system.
IRIS ODSTRCIL — University of Basel Research Fund Junior Researchers grant
Iris is an Argentine postdoctoral fellow who joined the Lüthi lab in 2018. Prior to that, she completed her bachelor's and PhD degrees at Harvard University, USA.
She has been awarded this grant to investigate how the amygdala, a central component of emotional processing in the brain, influences and is influenced by the body’s internal organs. By studying the direct neuronal connections between the amygdala and the autonomic nervous system in mice, Iris aims to understand what information is transmitted between these two areas, and how it effect on behavior.
FRANKA VOIGT — SNSF PRIMA grant
(SNSF Prima Grants are aimed at excellent women researchers who show a high potential for obtaining a professorship. PRIMA grantees conduct an independent research project with their own team at least at the group leader level within a Swiss research institution. Note: The PRIMA and Eccellenza schemes have been merged to the SNSF Starting Grants at the end of 2022).
Franka is German an did her PhD at the EMBL Heidelberg. She joined the Chao Lab as a postdoc in 2015. Franka developed single-molecule imaging techniques that use 3D organoid model systems to study the molecular mechanisms that target individual RNA transcripts to diverse subcellular localizations, cell types and tissues. These techniques will allow researchers to study how mRNA molecules are distributed to specific subcellular localizations in a specific tissue and investigate basic principles of post-transcriptional gene regulation. When gone awry, these play a role in cancer metastasis, neurodegenerative disease, mRNA vaccine functionality, etc…
Franka is currently setting up her own lab at the University of Zurich and will officially start there in mid-2023 (www.voigtlab.ch).
Other 2022 recognitions for postdocs/young scientists include:
JOEL LÜTHI — Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) napari Plugin Foundation grant
A Swiss national, Joel obtained his PhD from the University of Zurich in 2022 and soon after joined the lab of Prisca Liberali as a research associate, image analysis expert.
napari is a community-built, open-source tool designed for browsing, annotating, and analyzing large multi-dimensional images. napari can be extended and customized through the development of so-called “plugin” pieces of software. Joel got the napari Plugin Foundation grant for maintaining and improving the napari feature classifier plugin. This plugin gives researchers working with microscopy data easy access to interactive machine learning classification for better cell type classification and quality control. Building and maintaining state-of-the-art research tools is essential at the FMI to empower researchers to be more productive and get their job done better.