Ben Barres Spotlight Awards: Announcing the winners for 2022

12 scientists from around the world are recognised with awards to catalyse change and unlock new research and career opportunities, including five authors of Reviewed Preprints.

We are pleased to announce the 10 winners and two runners-up of the 2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Awards. Now in its fourth year, this award scheme seeks to promote catalytic changes for researchers from groups that are underrepresented in the life sciences and medicine. Scientists from countries with limited funding are also a specific focus of the awards.

For the second year, the awards were not limited to eLife authors, and were open to authors of preprints with publicly available reviews as well. This change was introduced in 2021 to help eLife more broadly support researchers embracing new publishing models. This year over 10% of eligible applications were made based on Reviewed Preprints; twice as many as last year. Overall, those preprints had been reviewed by 10 different groups on the public preprint evaluation platform Sciety and five of the 12 researchers being recognised with awards this year are receiving them as authors of Reviewed Preprints.

The winners of eLife’s 2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Awards are: Charles Agoti (KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya), Felipe Aguilera (Universidad de Concepción, Chile), Karthika Rajeeve (Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, India), Kumarasamypet M Mohankumar (Centre for Stem Cell Research (a unit of inStem, Bangalore), India), Maria Cecilia Martinez (Universidad de Buenos Aires-CONICET, Argentina), Mariana De Niz (Institut Pasteur, France), Nathalie Escande-Beillard (Koç University School of Medicine, Turkey), Olavo Bohrer Amaral (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Raphael Mendonça Guimarães (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil) and Reeteka Sud (ADBS–National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, India). Each winner will receive funds of up to $5,000, according to individual needs. The reviewers also identified two runners-up: Alicia Kowaltowski (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil) and Ivan Huespe (Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires, Argentina), who will receive $3,000 each.

2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Award Winners

Picture of Charles Agoti

Charles Agoti leads a research group, within the Kenya Medical Research Institute–Wellcome Trust Research Programme, that characterises the molecular epidemiology of a range of viruses that cause respiratory and intestinal infections in humans. He will use the funds to visit a collaborator in Belgium to explore how they can further use the extensive genomic datasets his lab is generating in Kenya to discover important pathogen-host evolutionary dynamics and infection dispersal pathways for optimal interventions.

Picture of Felipe Aguilera

Felipe Aguilera is an early-career group leader at Universidad de Concepción in Chile working with marine model organisms to understand the nature and evolution of genome-encoded rules that regulate animal development and regeneration. The award will go towards building a controlled, indoor aquatic ecosystem that can, for example, model the effects of ocean acidification. Felipe says: “This resource, which will be available to students, postdocs and our collaborators, will allow us to significantly extend our current research lines.”

Picture of Karthika Rajeeve

Karthika Rajeeve is a staff scientist at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in India working on the human pathogens Chlamydia trachomatis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Her research focuses on how these pathogens evade the host immune system. Karthika will use her award to buy much-needed equipment and to attend an international meeting of Chlamydia biologists to increase the visibility of her lab’s research.

Picture of Kumarasamypet M Mohankumar

Kumarasamypet M Mohankumar's research group in India aims to develop genome-editing strategies to treat genetic blood disorders like sickle cell anaemia and beta-thalassemia. Mohan is excited that the award will “help us extend our published preclinical work to in vivo models and, in turn, evaluate its potential clinical applications”.

Picture of Maria Cecilia Martinez

Maria Cecilia Martinez is an early-career group leader at Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina working towards understanding how learning works in rat brains. The award will allow her to start independent work combining new electrophysiology equipment and behavioural experiments. Cecilia says: “Open-source tools, like the one we will acquire, are a great contribution toward equality in science and key to enabling access for starting researchers.”

picture of Mariana De Niz

Mariana De Niz is a parasitologist and microscopist investigating disease mechanisms of Plasmodium and Trypanosoma and is currently based in Mexico*. Her award will go towards a project to engage with autistic children and adolescents to promote interest in science by building open-source microscopes. Mariana says: “As an autistic scientist myself, I feel little outreach is done to engage young autistic people in science. I am very excited to have received this award and hope it will help me to break down barriers currently faced by autistic people like me.”

Picture of Nathalie Escande-Beillard

Nathalie Escande-Beillard is an early-career group leader at Koç University School of Medicine, Turkey. Her team collaborates with clinicians to understand the causes of rare genetic diseases – including muscular dystrophy and ageing diseases – and recently had a study reviewed via Review Commons. Nathalie says: “This funding will greatly support our research into disease modelling strategies with zebrafish, which aim to accelerate the drug screening process for developing new therapies for genetic disorders that are otherwise often neglected.”

Picture of Olavo Bohrer Amaral

Olavo Bohrer Amaral leads a group at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and works towards increasing the impact of collaborative networks on research reproducibility. Olavo shares: “This award will help increase diversity in science by kickstarting the Brazilian Reproducibility Network,” which is an initiative that focuses on improving collaboration and promoting reproducible research in Brazil that will launch in 2023.

Picture of Raphael Mendonça Guimarãe

Raphael Mendonça Guimarães is a public health researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and the corresponding author on a recent preprint reporting on COVID-19 excess mortality in Brazil, which was reviewed by ASAPbio–SciELO preprints crowd review. Putting the funding towards new equipment to support computational analysis of big data and attending a meeting of the Population Association of America, Raphael says: “The award will kick-start the construction of a data analysis laboratory and help me strengthen networks with researchers from other countries.”

Picture of Reeteka Sud

Reeteka Sud is an early-career group leader at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India. Her group studies the cellular basis of severe mental illnesses, and she has a recent preprint reviewed by PeerRef. The funds will cover training in expansion microscopy at the Janelia Research Campus. Reeteka shares: “I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to use the latest technological breakthroughs in our model system and bring those techniques to our lab in India.”

2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Award Runners-up

Picture of Alicia Kowaltowski

Alicia Kowaltowski leads a lab at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil. Studying the role of mitochondria in metabolism, she will use her award’s funding to renovate the building that houses the Energy Metabolism Lab, which is in an advanced state of decay following decades of neglect due to a lack of funding. Alicia says: “Initiatives highlighting the importance of quality research and preprints are essential. I was very happy to have our preprint reviewed by ASAPbio, and this award is the icing on the cake.”

Picture of Ivan Huespe

Ivan Huespe is a PhD student at the Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires in Argentina developing predictive machine learning models to estimate clinical outcomes in critical care. The award will allow him to attend workshops at Harvard Medical School, as well as an international conference in the United States. Ivan shares: “I am happy that this award will help me connect with some of the most important researchers in my area.”

This year we received 123 applications that met our eligibility criteria. Each qualifying application was independently assessed by at least two reviewers drawn from representatives of eLife’s editorial board, Early-Career Advisory Group and staff. We thank all the reviewers, including Aalok Varma, Ailís OCarroll, Akira Shinohara, Andy Tay, Ashlea Shaw, Ashleigh Griffin, Aya Ito-Ishida, Bavesh Kana, Carlos Isales, Carolina Quezada, Claude Desplan, Daisy Veysey, David Donoso, Divyansh Mittal, Elizabeth Ochola, Erin Rich, Florencia Fernandez Chiappe, Florent Ginhoux, Helena Pérez Valle, John Huguenard, Joon-Yong An, Lana Sinapayen, María Isabel Geli, Maria Zambrano, Murim Choi, Rachel Tonkin, Regina Mencia, Sarah Russell, Satyajit Rath, Sofia Araújo, Subburaman Mohan and Yuxin Chen.

Image: Riko Sapto (CC BY 4.0)

We also thank all who submitted an application to the 2022 Ben Barres Spotlight Awards and congratulate the winners and runners-up. We hope to see opportunities unlocked by the award in the near future, as they have for successful applicants from previous years. We also wish all the participating researchers the best of luck in their pursuit of new findings and their careers.

The Ben Barres Spotlight Awards have been given each year since 2019 in memory of the American neurobiologist Ben Barres, a transgender researcher who advocated for equality in science and was a Reviewing Editor at eLife from 2015 to 2016. This year’s fund has been fully distributed; further funding will be available in late 2023.

* Note: Mariana De Niz is also an early-career advisor for eLife. All applications were reviewed anonymously but, to further exclude the potential for a conflict of interest, Mariana’s was reviewed exclusively by eLife editors and a staff member who is not part of eLife’s Community team. Other members of eLife’s Early-Career Advisory Group did not review Mariana’s application, nor was Mariana involved in the review of applications received this year.


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