Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2020: Announcing the winners

Ten researchers have been recognised in the second edition of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards.

We are pleased to announce the winners of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2020. First introduced in 2019, the Awards provide visibility and collaboration opportunities for scientists from underrepresented groups. Six winners and four runners-up will share this year’s $50,000 prize fund.

The six winners are: Daiana Capdevila (Leloir Institute, Argentina), Carlos Díaz Osterman (Ponce Health Sciences University, Puerto Rico), Mohammad Moeini (Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran), María Eugenia Segretin (INGEBI-CONICET and FBMC, FCEN, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Ismail Uyanik (Hacettepe University, Turkey) and Jin Xu (Sun Yat-sen University, China). Capdevila, Díaz Osterman, Segretin, Uyanik and Xu will each receive funds of up to $6,000, as requested in their applications, and Moeini has currently accepted a non-monetary prize (more details below).

The four runners-up are: Sahba Besharati (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa), Karen Castillo (Centro Interdisciplinario de Neurociencia de Valparaiso, Chile), Adán Guerrero (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico) and Damar Susilaradeya (Medical Technology Cluster, Indonesian Medical Education and Research Institute, and Medical Physics Department, Faculty of Medicine Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia). The runners-up will receive $3,700 each.

This year, we received 53 applications that met our eligibility criteria (eLife authors who belong to one or more groups that are underrepresented in science). Each qualifying application was individually assessed by an eLife editor, a member of the Early-Career Advisory Group and a member of staff, based on the potential impact of the award on the applicant’s work, and the winners and runners-up were identified based on the compiled assessments. We thank all the reviewers, including: Andy Tay, Wei Mun Chan, Yuuki Watanabe, Yuting Ma, Satyajit Rath, Jiwon Shim, Wenying Shou, Devang Mehta, Daniela Robles-Espinoza, Shane Alsop, Lotte de Winde, Hedyeh Ebrahimi, Helena Pérez Valle, Naushin Thomson, Joanne Lemieux, Florencia Fernandez-Chiappe, María Isabel Geli, Bavesh Kana and Koyeli Mapa.

María Eugenia Segretin studies the molecular basis of interaction between potatoes and Phytophthora infestans (P. infestans), the Irish potato famine pathogen that represents a continuous threat for potato production worldwide.

María will use the award to continue her research: she plans to obtain reagents and next-generation sequencing services to analyse effector repertoire and allelic diversity in Argentinean isolates of P. infestans.

Ismail Uyanik’s research focuses on developing system identification methods to understand the dynamics of multisensory integration in zebrafish during their instinctive behaviors. To achieve this, Ismail has designed a novel swim tunnel that allows the independent stimulation of vision and lateral line to understand their roles in the fish’s performance. The award will be used to purchase the necessary equipment to build the swim tunnel.

Jin Xu and her research team investigate the drivers and consequences of cellular diversity that play important roles during neuronal development, disease and evolution, through integrating the strength of multidisciplinary approaches from computational, developmental and evolutionary biology.

“With this award, we plan to set up a professional and secure cloud-based storage service to solve our difficulties for sharing data with collaborators,” says Xu.

Daiana Capdevila and her laboratory are devoted to researching the molecular evolution of bacterial pathogens that are essential for their evasion of the immune response and resistance to antibiotics.

With the Ben Barres Spotlight Award, Daiana will purchase consumables to perform key experiments that follow on from her team’s 2018 publication in eLife. They will also use the funds to maintain the in-house spectrometer that allows the group to implement cutting-edge nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy methods.

Mohammad Moeini and his newly formed research group aim to use biomedical engineering to find solutions to enhance brain regeneration following traumatic injuries, brain tumour treatment or strokes. Limited resources mean that they depend on other labs for equipment to conduct their research, and Mohammad had sought funds to better equip their lab.

Mohammad’s application was highly rated. However, due to the US government’s sanctions against Iran, we are currently unable to award the requested funds. This is an unfortunate situation that highlights the additional challenges faced by some researchers. It was also our mistake not to acknowledge earlier that we operate within this constraint and we apologise to Mohammad and his group for disappointing them. We will work with Mohammad to help increase the visibility of his research as part of the Awards program, while we explore alternative options.

Carlos Díaz Osterman focuses on the identification and evaluation of metabolic biomarkers of aggressive tumour phenotypes in African American and Puerto Rican men with prostate cancer. The award will be used to cover the purchase of key exosome isolation and fractionation equipment.

We congratulate all the winners and runners-up of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards 2020, and thank everyone who applied. The fund has been fully distributed this year, and we hope to return with the next edition in 2021.


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