News Release

Prize winner’s research reveals specialized enteric glial cells that mediate gastrointestinal function

Grant and Award Announcement

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Marissa Scavuzzo is the winner of the 2023 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology for research revealing how specialized glial cells embedded within the walls of the gut, which operate independently of the brain, fine-tune intestinal function. Scavuzzo’s prize-winning work provides new insights into the diverse functions of different enteric glial cell subtypes and their role in gut health and gastrointestinal disease. The annual Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology recognizes the important role of neurobiology in advancing the understanding of the functioning of the brain and nervous system. The winner receives $25,000 and publication of their essay in the November 3 issue of Science.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) – a complex network of neurons and glia often referred to as the “second brain” – controls our ability to move food through the gastrointestinal tract and operates independently of the central nervous system. Although this “brain inside your gut” plays a crucial role in survival, the identities and functional diversity of the cells that comprise this system remain poorly understood.  To address this, Scavuzzo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and her lab developed new cellular and molecular technologies that have enabled researchers to define enteric glial diversity at the molecular, morphological, and tissue level, which revealed a specific subpopulation of enteric glia found exclusively in the muscle layer of the gut, which the researchers named enteric glial hub cells. By mapping the connectome of these cells, Scavuzzo and her colleagues discovered that these distinct cells act as a type of biosensor and directly sense gut contents through PIEZO2, an ion channel that opens upon application of force to a cellular membrane.

According to Scavuzzo’s work, enteric glial hub cells respond to this force to orchestrate and fine-tune the function of enteric neurons and other cells that coordinate the muscle contractions that drive peristalsis and move material through the gastrointestinal tract. “Our findings revealed that the external cue is force itself, and that this specialized enteric glia spatially position themselves by intertwining through muscle and neurons to fine tune rhythmic contractions without any need for the brain itself,” writes Scavuzzo.

“Eppendorf and the journal Science have awarded this prestigious prize for over 20 years. Many awardees have gone on to become leading scientists in their field,” stated Axel Jahns, Ph.D., Vice President Corporate Citizenship & Governmental Affairs at Eppendorf SE. “Congratulations to Marissa Scavuzzo on her amazing achievement in winning this year’s award.”


2023 Finalists:

Mattia Aime for his essay, “To ‘feel’ better, sleep on it: Emotional memories are consolidated during REM sleep.” Aime received his undergraduate degree in neurobiology from the University of Pavia and a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Bordeaux. Currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Bern, Aime’s research is focused on the mechanisms behind emotional memory consolidation during sleep, with the goal of identifying potential new therapeutic targets for treating affective disorders, such as PTSD and anxiety.


Michael Skinnider for his essay, “From single cells to neural circuits: mapping neural circuits in high-throughput with single-cell genomics.” Skinnider revied his undergraduate degree from McMaster University and a M.D./Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia, during which he was also a visiting Ph.D. student at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. At his laboratory in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Princeton University, Skinnider’s research focuses on the application of machine learning to problems in biology, chemistry, and medicine.


About Science/AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science AdvancesScience Immunology; and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement and more.


About Eppendorf

Eppendorf is a leading life science company that develops and sells instruments, consumables, and services for liquid handling, sample handling, and cell handling in laboratories worldwide. Its product range includes pipettes and automated pipetting systems, dispensers, centrifuges, mixers, spectrometers, and DNA amplification equipment as well as ultra-low temperature freezers, fermenters, bioreactors, CO2 incubators, shakers, and cell manipulation systems. Consumables such as pipette tips, test tubes, microplates, and single-use bioreactor vessels complement the range of highest-quality premium products. As digital solution, Eppendorf is developing new business models and transforming the Eppendorf portfolio to meet Industry 4.0 requirements. Eppendorf products are most broadly used in academic and commercial research laboratories, e.g., in companies from the pharmaceutical and biotechnological as well as the chemical and food industries. They are also aimed at clinical and environmental analysis laboratories, forensics, and at industrial laboratories performing process analysis, production, and quality assurance. Eppendorf was founded in Hamburg, Germany in 1945 and has about 5,000 employees worldwide. The company has subsidiaries in 26 countries and is represented in all other markets by distributors.

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