Every two years, the International Foundation for Research in Paraplegia (IRP) awards the IRP Schellenberg Research Prize endowed with a prize money of 100,000 CHF. 2018 it was distributed in equal shares to Professor Magdalena Götz, from the Helmholtz Zentrum München, and Professor Claire Jacob, from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
The ceremony was held on September 27, in Basel, Switzerland. During his laudation, Professor Andreas Steck, president of the IRP scientific committee, particularly emphasized Götz's revolutionary work in developmental biology focusing on the reprogramming of glia cells to neurons.
Magdalena Götz is Director of the Institute of Stem Cell Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and Chair for Physiological Genomics at the Biomedical Center of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU). Since many years, her research focus is on the so-called glial cells in the brain. They had previously been considered as supportive or nutritional cells, but Magdalena Götz demonstrated that, during development, these glia cells have stem cell properties allowing them to replace various cell types - also nerve cells in the brain.
Just recently, the Götz and her team made a breakthrough in direct neuronal reprogramming. In an experimental model they were able to reprogram more than 90 percent of the treated glial cells into neurons. Moreover, the neurobiologists were able to show in an experimental model that transplanted embryonic nerve cells were able to grow into full members of an existing neural network and consequently completely take over the assignments in their new position.
The scientific achievements of Magdalena Götz have been acknowledged with numerous other awards, including the Roger de Spoelberch Prize, the Ernst Schering Prize, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize as well as the Hansen Family Award. Moreover in 2010, she was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2013, she received a prestigious Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC).
The competition for the IRP Schellenberg Research Prize takes place every two years. It is awarded to researchers who, by the significance of their scientific contributions and their publications in scientific journals of renown, have furthered understanding of the development, lesion and regeneration processes relating to the spinal cord. Set up in 2003, the IRP Schellenberg Research Prize perpetuates the memory of Ulrich Schellenberg, the founder of the IFP Foundation in Zürich and co-founder of the IRP Foundation in Geneva, who died in 2001.