Award ceremony

The first Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award

ERA-Net Neuron announced the winners of the Excellent Paper in Neuroscience award for young scientists for the year 2009. The award ceremony took place during the 7th Forum of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) in Amsterdam (July 3-5).

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Professor Denise Manahan-Vaughan (Second from left), the Chair of the Network of European Neuroscience Schools (NENS) chaired the award ceremony. Dr. Rainer Girgenrath (right) handed the award to Heidi Nousiainen (left). Dr. Erkki Raulo (second from right) was responsible for the management of the award in ERA-NET NEURON.

The two winners, awarded each a prize of 3,000 Euro, were Dr. Heidi O. Nousiainen from the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland, and Dr. Asya Rolls from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. "The first Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award is awarded to outstanding scientific publications by young researchers in the field of disease related neurosciences," says Dr. Marlies Dorlöchter, coordinator of ERA-Net Neuron. "The two winners have made significant contributions towards our understanding of disease and injury of the nervous system as well as the development of novel therapies. Their achievements emphasize the high quality neuroscience research undertaken in Europe."

The awardees

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Dr. Heidi Nousiainen, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland, Nousiainen et al. (2008), Mutations in mRNA export mediator GLE1 result in a fetal motoneuron disease. Nature Genetics 2, 155-7

Dr. Heidi O. Nousiainen received the award on her publication in Nature Genetics (2008) describing the identification of the gene underlying two fatal nervous system diseases (LCCS1 and LAAHD) that are characterized by marked atrophy of spinal cord motoneurons and fetal immobility, and who are lethal already during fetal development or shortly after birth. Dr. Nousiainen discovered that the disease causing gene is GLE1 which encodes for a protein that has been shown to participate in mRNA export from the nucleus as well translation of mRNA into protein. This discovery adds a new and important member to the increasing number of RNA processing molecules linked to neurodegenerative diseases. This study provides significant new information about the molecular background of fetal motoneuron disease, but at the same time also gives insight into the mechanisms that are essential for the normal development as well as maturation and functioning of motoneurons.

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Dr. Asya Rolls, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, Rolls A. et al. (2008), Two Faces of Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycan in Spinal Cord Repair: A Role in Microglia/Macrophage Activation. PLoS Medicine, 5:1262-1277

Dr. Asya Rolls received the award on her publication in PLoS Medicine (2008) for elucidating the role of scar tissue formation in spinal cord repair after injury. It has been accepted for quite some time that lack of nerve regeneration in the central nervous system is due to formation of a deleterious scar tissue. Dr. Rolls addressed the question of why should the body invest so much energy in scar formation after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) only to inhibit spinal cord repair. She showed that initial formation of the scar, and in particular a protein called CSPG, is part of an "SOS" response crucial for recovery. In fact, inhibiting the formation of CSPG at the early stages of spinal cord injury actually harms the recovery process. On the other hand, CSPG inhibition during the later subacute phase, improves functional recovery and can benefit regeneration. This study thus identified an endogenous repair mechanism of the body and may have considerable implications for the treatment of SCI.

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Dr. Heidi Nousiainen was invited to the Conference as the special ERA-NET NEURON Young Investigator lecturer.