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Elly Tanaka receives Erwin Schrödinger Award

03 Dec 2018

IMP Senior Scientist Elly Tanaka is one of the recipients of this year’s Erwin Schrödinger Award, bestowed by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. She is honoured for her outstanding contributions to the field of regeneration biology. Elly Tanaka shares the award with Peter Jonas of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria.

Elly Tanaka is internationally recognised as an innovative scientist who pioneered molecular approaches to understanding the complex phenomenon of regeneration. In particular, she brought cutting-edge molecular biology and imaging techniques to the classical regeneration model Ambystoma mexicanum, the Mexican salamander axolotl. Through her research, she established the axolotl as a molecular biological model and was able to uncover fundamental mechanisms underlying regeneration. 

Applying specially developed tools, Elly Tanaka and her group were able to decipher the molecular signals that trigger a regenerative response, to identify the source cells of regenerating limb tissues and to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying pattern formation which is required to enable regeneration of the proper limb segment. The team also described that mature neural stem cells can dedifferentiate into embryonic stem cells to reconstruct a damaged spinal cord in the axolotl.

More recently, researchers from her lab and collaborators showed that mature connective tissue cells respond to the loss of a limb by de-differentiating into limb progenitor cells similar to those of an embryo. This study answered a fundamental question about the nature of the blastema precursor cells. 

Elly Tanaka also co-headed a major research effort that led to the publication of the axolotl genome earlier this year. Sequencing, assembling and annotating this enormous genome – ten times the size of the human genome – was a major breakthrough and provides a valuable resource for further studies in regeneration biology.

About Elly Tanaka

Elly Tanaka obtained her undergraduate degree at Harvard University, performing her bachelor’s thesis work in the lab of Lawrence Goldstein. For her PhD in biochemistry, she joined the group of Marc Kirschner at UC San Francisco where she pioneered the application of digital imaging technologies to study microtubules in neuronal axons. As her postdoctoral project in the lab of Jeremy Brockes at University College London, Elly Tanaka studied muscle regeneration in the newt. In 1999, when she set up her own lab at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, she established a new line of research on salamander regeneration in the axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum. In 2008, Elly Tanaka was appointed full professor at the DFG Center for Regenerative Therapies of the TU Dresden and in 2014 she became its director. Since 2016, she is a Senior Scientist at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna.

Elly Tanaka is an elected member of the Academia Europaea and of the Europen Molecular Biology Organisation EMBO. Her research achievements have been honoured by a number of awards such as the Agnes Ogden Prize, BioFuture Prize, GSCN Female Scientist Prize and Ernst Schering Prize. Among many other endowments, her work was twice funded by an ERC Advanced Grant.   

More about the Tanaka Lab

Lab webpages:

About the Erwin Schrödinger Award

The Erwin Schrödinger Award is presented annually by the Austrian Academy of Sciences for outstanding scientific merits in the mathematical and scientific disciplines. It honours a lifetime achievement or equivalent that has had a lasting impact in its field. Eligible scholars must reside and work in Austria and cannot be full members of the Academy. The prize includes an annual stipend of currently € 15,000. It was established in 1958 and was first awarded to Austrian physicist and Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger.

About the IMP

The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna is a basic biomedical research institute largely sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. With over 200 scientists from 40 countries, the IMP is committed to scientific discovery of fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying complex biological phenomena. The IMP is located at the Vienna BioCenter.

About the Vienna BioCenter

The Vienna BioCenter (VBC) is a leading life science hub in Europe, offering an extraordinary combination of research, business and education in a single location. About 1,700 employees, 90 research groups, 21 biotech companies, 1,300 students, and scientists from 70 countries create a highly dynamic and stimulating environment.