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Anna Obenauf elected EMBO Member

04 Jul 2023
Anna Obenauf was elected to full EMBO membership.

IMP Senior Group Leader Anna Obenauf is one of 60 newly elected members of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) for this year. Although this distinction is highly selective, there are now eight of 15 group leaders at the IMP who are EMBO members – the entire senior faculty.

“It is a great honour to build on my experience as an EMBO Young Investigator and deepen my links to the organization and its member community”, says Anna Obenauf in response to the announcement of newly elected members by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). “I appreciate the work of EMBO in fostering cross-border collaboration and developing young talents. I hope that I will be able to contribute to the important work of the organisation.”

This year, 60 full members and nine associate members working in 20 different countries were elected to join EMBO. They are joining a community of more than 2,000 leading life scientists, most of them based at European institutions. EMBO Members are actively involved in the organisation. They serve on EMBO Council, Committees and Advisory Editorial Boards of EMBO Press journals, evaluate applications for EMBO funding, and mentor early-career scientists. Collectively, EMBO members influence the direction of the life sciences in Europe and beyond.

Another important aspect of an EMBO membership is in the merit – an election to this organisation is a rare mark of distinction. In spite of the extreme selectivity of the election process, the 15-strong IMP faculty now has eight elected EMBO members; the entire IMP senior faculty. “This should not give the impression that EMBO membership is easily won,” says IMP Scientific Director Jan-Michael Peters in congratulating Anna Obenauf. “Quite the opposite, EMBO election is a rare honour for highly distinguished scientists. It is exceptional to have such a high number of EMBO members among our colleagues here at the IMP and testimony to the excellent science at this place.”

Anna Obenauf and her research group focus on investigating the molecular processes that drive metastatic cancer's progression and ability to evade the immune system. Their aim is to develop effective therapeutic strategies that yield long-lasting responses. Through their research, Obenauf and her team made a significant discovery: melanomas that develop resistance to targeted therapies and which inhibit oncogenic signalling pathways can acquire resistance to immunotherapy. This resistance arises due to a modified MAPK signalling pathway, triggering a gene expression program that allows the cancer to evade immunotherapy. These findings, initially observed in mouse models, were subsequently validated in a clinical trial.

The Obenauf lab also introduced an innovative method for cancer cell lineage tracing, known as 'CaTCH'. This method allowed the scientists to retrospectively identify tumour-founding clones from millions of cells prior to evolutionary selection. This approach has gained widespread adoption among research labs worldwide. Using CaTCH, Obenauf and her lab demonstrated that resistance to targeted therapies, mediated by mutations and epigenetic changes, often emerges during tumour evolution rather than being pre-existing. Additionally, the lab has made noteworthy contributions in uncovering novel therapeutic approaches for rare cancers such as Merkel cell carcinoma.

Anna Obenauf studied molecular biology at the University of Graz and completed her PhD in molecular medicine at the Medical University of Graz. She was a postdoctoral researcher in Joan Massagué's lab at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from 2010, before establishing her own research group at the IMP in 2016. Last year, she was promoted to the position of senior group leader at the IMP.

The election to EMBO membership is the last of a number of distinctions. Previous awards and honours include the ASCINA Prize from the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research in 2015, a grant from the Vienna Science and Technology Fund in 2017, an ERC Starting Grant in 2018, as well as an ALS Foundation grant and the AAAS Wachtel Cancer Research Award in 2022. In 2019, she was elected to the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences; she is an EMBO Young Investigator since 2021.

About EMBO

EMBO is an organisation of more than 2,000 leading researchers that promotes excellence in the life sciences in Europe and beyond. The goals of EMBO are to support talented researchers at all stages of their careers, stimulate the exchange of scientific information, and help build a research environment where scientists can achieve their best work.

EMBO helps young scientists to advance their research, promote their international visibility and ensure their mobility. Courses, workshops, conferences, and scientific journals disseminate the latest research and offer training in techniques to maintain high standards of excellence in research practice. EMBO helps to shape science and research policy by seeking input and feedback from our community and by following closely the trends in science in Europe. For more information:

Further Reading

Obenauf Lab (external)