News Release

FENS Young Investigator Awards 2022: The new generation of neuroscientists pushing the boundaries with discoveries in brain-connected bionic limbs, machine learning for conservation, transparent brains and much more

Grant and Award Announcement

Federation of European Neuroscience Societies

Paris, France – July 6, 2022: FENS, the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies has selected four neuroscientists as recipients of the Young Investigator Awards to recognise their outstanding contribution to neuroscience. The awardees will give lectures on July 9, from 1:30-3:00 pm during the FENS Forum in Paris in July 2022 and will be available at a press conference earlier that day at 10:00 am. Get in touch for details.

Dr. Mackenzie Mathis - Bertarelli Foundation Chair of Integrative Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland

Turning to AI to de-code intricate animal behaviour and inform conservation initiatives

Studying animal behaviour can be a tedious and time-consuming task that often involves invasive techniques like the use of markers or trackers. Whether it is done in the lab, or out in the wild, analysing the specificities around everything that is happening when a fruit fly lays an egg, or a hummingbird engages in mating can be incredibly challenging. Recently, Dr. Mathis led an open access project called DeepLabCut to help tackle some of the issues surrounding this. The revolutionary AI tool was pre-trained on thousands of images of different objects and animals allowing it to be able to accurately identify and map the movements of various animals’ body parts. As an open access toolbox, it is now available to researchers around the world impacting areas such as ethology, biodiversity, conservation, and more. This impressive work has been published in Nature Neuroscience and in a more recent Nature Methods, this technology was shown to be the first to combine multi-animal tracking and animal identification, critical for labs and for the wild.

In another open-source study, Dr. Mathis shows the value of machine learning approaches as a powerful way to accelerate ecology and conservation research. Her perspective in Nature Communications highlights the critical issue surrounding the decline of animal diversity and the fact we lack enough data to study up to 17,000 threatened species. She presents a series of success stories to suggest that this gap can only be filled by closer collaboration between machine learning specialists and ecologists.

Dr. Giacomo Valle – Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, in Zurich, Switzerland

Developing life-changing technology – the first bionic hand that can feel

Though we may not notice it, we receive a ton of tactile feedback from the world around us. Even walking requires us to carefully calculate our steps based on what we feel as our feet hit the pavement or grass. While it may seem automatic to many of us, this is not the case for people who have lost this type of important sensation in their limbs through nerve damage or amputation. This is precisely one of the areas that Dr. Valle targets. He has developed portable sensors that can be fitted into shoes. The non-invasive technical approach can be used with any standard prosthetic on the market.

The possibilities in neuroprosthetics are endless when you bring together expertise from the areas of physics, hardware development, programming, electronics, neuroscience, psychology, and kinesiology. Indeed Dr. Valle’s work is focused on the development of a wide range of knowledge and tools for people who are neurologically disabled.

This amazing work has led Dr. Valle to be involved in the development of the first bionic hand with a sense of touch. This next-generation prosthetic allowed people have a sense of feeling while using this bionic hand. Researchers were even able to stimulate the nerves of the amputated arm with computer code. This resulted in signals being sent to the prosthetic arm that were very similar to the signals that would be seen naturally from brain to arm in a non-amputated arm. For some users, it had been a very long time since they had been able to experience a sense of feeling in their limb.

Dr. Valle’s fascinating work provides a giant step forward in the development of prosthetic technology and quality of life for those living with these types of disabilities.  

Dr. Nicolas Renier - Team leader, Laboratory of Structural Dynamics of Networks at the Paris Brain Institute (ICM), France.

Brain mapping becomes clear with this cutting-edge light sheet microscopy technique

The brain is an incredibly adaptive structure that can change and reorganise its structure, function, and the many connections within in. Dr. Renier develops research techniques to understand how this plasticity affects the adult brain. He combines tools he co-developed that make brains transparent with light sheet microscopy to reveal the organization of the neural and vascular circuits with high precision and reproducibility.

Dr. Renier carries out 3D brain imaging through light sheet microscopy and the result gives way to breathtaking visuals that are based on transparent brain samples which are achieved through a specialised chemical process. This technique makes it possible for him to mark specific neurons in the brain, image them, and then view them in 3D via light sheet microscopy, which is a fluorescent imaging technique that shapes the light into a thin plane to rapidly illuminate very large samples.

His work is focused on the basic understanding of how brain is shaped by experience and behaviors, the insights gained by his techniques also have a wide range of clinical applications. His work published in Cell, describe his development of 3D molecular mapping pipeline, which is relevant to many areas of biological research and diagnostics as it allows researchers or clinicians to examine the detailed form and molecular composition of biological samples. The technique is so precise, it allowed him to image a single part of a degenerating neuron in both adult and embryonic mice. This could have important implications for how we understand and diagnose neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in humans.

Some of Dr. Renier’s work on brain mapping has provided a better understanding of map formation in the brain, parental behaviors, ischemic stroke, congenital hearing loss, and more.

Dr.Sara Mederos, Research Fellow, Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

Star-shaped brain cells take centre stage as facilitators of complex cognitive functions

Our daily life presents us with countless decisions to make. Some may seem insignificant, while others may be critical. The study of how we make decisions can be taken from many angles and it is an area that has garnered the interest of psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, and many others!

Another essential perspective that can help us build our understanding of decision making involves looking at it from a basic science perspective.  Among other important work, Dr. Mederos took an in-depth look at a chemical messenger in our brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). GABA is known for producing a calming effect as well as mitigating nerve cell hyperactivity that can be caused by fear, anxiety, or stress. Along with her colleagues, Dr. Mederos was the first to demonstrate that this chemical messenger interacts with a type of cell called astrocytes and this interaction can help facilitate complex cognitive functions like decision making. 

These findings were surprising, since astrocytes have long been thought of as providing supportive regulatory functions to the brain without necessarily being involved in complex cognition. Her findings add to recent studies that have changed the way we think about the functional role of these brain cells, presenting them as essential players in facilitating complex behavior. Furthermore, her work shows that astrocytes are at the core of delivering consistent goal-directed behaviors.

The FENS Forum features a high-quality scientific programme covering all aspects of neuroscience, from basic to translational research. Over the course of five days, attendees will have unprecedented access to a range of symposia, technical workshops, plenary and special lectures like these as well as poster sessions and more!

FENS and the Société des Neurosciences are eager to welcome the neuroscience community to attend Europe's largest international neuroscience meeting on 9-13 July 2022 in Paris, France.

Press passes are still available.

About FENS

FENS is the main organisation for neuroscience in Europe. FENS currently represents 44 European national and single discipline neuroscience societies across 33 European countries and over 21,000 member scientists. FENS promotes neuroscience research to policy-makers, funding bodies and the general public, both regionally and internationally. FENS promotes excellence in neuroscience research and facilitates exchanges and networking between neuroscientists within the European Research Area and beyond.

Media contact before and during the Forum

FENS Forum Press Officer

Michelle Wilson-André

+34 7 68 86 55 47    

FENS Contact      

FENS Communications Team

+32 2 545 04 06

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