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Elly Tanaka receives the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award 2020

18 Feb 2020

The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) announced the IMP's Elly Tanaka as the recipient of the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award 2020.

The FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award recognizes outstanding contributions of female researchers in the life sciences. The recipients are also inspiring role models for future generations of scientists.

Elly Tanaka receives the award for her pioneering work developing a molecular understanding of limb and spinal cord regeneration. She developed new methods to study the phenomenon, which had previously been considered too complex to understand at a cellular level. Through her work inside and outside the lab, Tanaka has galvanized regeneration research worldwide.

“It is a great honour to receive this recognition,” says Tanaka. “Working on this important problem and watching the regeneration field grow in size and activity during my career so far has been very exciting. I am proud to have played a part in its development and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.”

EMBO Member Ruth Lehmann of New York University, USA, says: “Throughout her career, Elly Tanaka has played an active role in organizing the regeneration community in Europe and internationally, and is in part responsible for a worldwide reawakening of interest in the problem of regeneration. In 2002 she co-founded with Brigitte Galliot the EMBO series ‘The Molecular and Cellular Basis of Regeneration and Tissue Repair’, which is still running today under the stewardship of young people in the field, many of whom were mentored and hosted for research visits in Elly’s laboratory.”

In addition to organizing meetings and mentoring junior scientists, Tanaka has served on several advisory boards, including the Board of Directors of the International Stem Cell Society. Alongside these activities, she has continued to perform research of the highest quality.

EMBO Member Marc W. Kirschner of Harvard University, USA, who was Tanaka’s research supervisor during her PhD, says: “Elly made an important decision that she would study limb, tail and spinal cord regeneration. Her findings in the axolotl system are profound and tell us a lot about differentiation and dedifferentiation.” Of her research field, he says: “the goal of regeneration itself is so medically important and the relationship of regeneration to the normal problems of differentiation are so deep and rewarding that her work will surely inspire scientists for many years. In this larger field no one I know casts a larger shadow than Elly.”

Tanaka will be presented with the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award of 10,000 euros and a bronze statuette on 6 July 2020 at the FEBS Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she will give a plenary lecture.

About Elly Tanaka

Elly Tanaka studied biochemistry at Harvard University before completing her PhD on the function of microtubules in morphogenesis at the University of California San Francisco, USA in 1993. During a postdoctoral fellowship at University College London, UK she began studying regeneration in the salamander, a subject she has continued to investigate in her subsequent appointments. She is currently a Senior Scientist at the Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna BioCenter, Austria.

Tanaka’s current research interests are in further developing an understanding of regeneration and investigating the differences in regenerative abilities between species and at different phases of the life cycle. Most recently, she has used her knowledge of regeneration to engineer fully patterned three-dimensional tissue from stem cells, and is currently using these tissues to screen drugs that could potentially combat defects in pigmented retinal epithelium (RPE) cells that are known to cause progressive blindness.

Tanaka has received many awards for her work, including the German Stem Cell Network Female Scientist Award (2017), the Ernst Schering Award (2017) and the Schrödinger Award of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2018).


About the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award

The Women in Science Award is a joint initiative of FEBS and EMBO. It recognizes and highlights major contributions by female scientists working in Europe to life sciences research in the past five years. The award includes a prize of 10,000 euros, a bronze statuette and the opportunity to give a plenary lecture at the FEBS Congress.

About FEBS

The Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) is one of Europe’s largest organizations in the molecular life sciences, with over 35,000 members across more than 35 biochemistry and molecular biology societies (its 'Constituent Societies') in different countries of Europe and neighbouring regions. As a grass-roots organization FEBS thereby provides a voice to a large part of the academic research and teaching community in Europe and beyond.

As a charity, FEBS promotes and supports biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, molecular biophysics and related research areas through its journals, Congress, Advanced Courses, Fellowships and other initiatives. There is an emphasis in many programmes on scientific exchange and cooperation between scientists working in different countries, and on promotion of the training of early-career scientists. For more information: 

About EMBO

EMBO is an organization of more than 1800 leading researchers that promotes excellence in the life sciences in Europe and beyond. The major goals of the organization 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 reputations 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: