In honour of its 50th anniversary, the Max Cloëtta Foundation awarded its Jubilee Prize to two ETH Zurich professors, Tanja Stadler and Barbara Treutlein for their outstanding achievements and active research in the field of biomedicine. Both working in ETH Zurich’s Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, Switzerland, Stadler and Treutlein will share the award’s endowment valued at 250,000 Swiss francs to fund their future research.
Pathogen forecast, like checking the weather
As a professor of Computational Evolution, Tanja Stadler has become a leading Biomedical scientist in Switzerland and worldwide. Her research in statistical phylogenetics is central to genomics-based studies of pathogen evolution and epidemiology. Working at the interface of mathematics, computer science, and evolution, she has made critical contributions to science and society through her work on infectious disease spread and evolution, including HIV, Ebola, COVID-19, and Monkeypox. Her work develops fundamental theory and computational tools for answering core questions in evolution, which advances life sciences not only in molecular biology, virology, epidemiology, immunology, and ecology, but also developmental biology and species evolution. During the coronavirus pandemic, Stadler made important contributions to the pandemic response in Switzerland and chaired the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force.
Tanja Stadler envisions a world in which everyone will have access to a forecasting app that shows the progression of epidemics and helps to facilitate individual and societal decision making. Like a weather forecast helps us decide on whether we should take an umbrella to work, an epidemic forecast could help us to assess the benefit, for example, of temporarily wearing a mask. Stadler anticipates using her portion of the prize award towards solving scientific questions around the analysis of huge pathogen genomic datasets in real time. Such analyses are a pre-requisite for a comprehensive epidemic forecast.
Commenting on the prize award, she says, “I am deeply honoured to receive this great recognition of my work. Sharing this prize with Barbara Treutlein reflects upon the outstanding scientific environment of ETH Zurich and its thriving Basel campus – a scientific home for both of us.”
Every cell has a story to tell
As a professor of Quantitative Developmental Biology, Barbara Treutlein is a leading international scientist and pioneer in the field of single-cell genomics. She is fascinated by the intricate processes that orchestrate how an entire organism, which can be composed of hundreds of millions of cells, develops from a single cell. A process that takes place through the dynamic activity of thousands of genes in the genome. Her lab has established sophisticated experimental and computational tools to measure and analyse this genomic activity in each cell, and in thousands of cells at a time. Her research group uses these technologies to study the complex processes that underlie human brain development. They do this by modelling human brain development in a dish using three-dimensional tissues, called organoids, which form from immature human stem cells. Her lab’s analyses of these brain organoids at the single-cell level have illuminated the basic processes of human brain development and evolution, as well as revealed new insights into brain disorders such as Autism.
Treutlein’s lab has also made seminal insights into organ regeneration. In particular, the lab has explored how salamanders such as the Axolotl can regrow entire limbs or even parts of the brain after severe injury. Her lab, for the first time, provided a detailed molecular description of individual cells that remodel and build an entire limb after amputation and how new neurons form and function after a massive brain injury, both work using the Axolotl as a model. Altogether, Treutlein has brought a novel and quantitative direction to the developmental biology, regeneration, and organoid fields.
“I want to thank all the current and previous members of my team for their outstanding work and dedication to their projects. The Cloëtta Jubilee award is a fantastic recognition of our research, and I feel deeply honoured to receive it,” said Barbara Treutlein. Treutlein intends to use her portion of the Cloëtta prize award to advance understanding of how specific neuron types are emerging during human brain development and how we can mimic these processes to precisely engineer human neurons in vitro.