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New View on Neurogenesis: Developmental Biologist Magdalena Götz Awarded Mendel Medal of the Leopoldina

Professor Magdalena Götz of Helmholtz Zentrum München has been awarded the Mendel Medal of the Leopoldina for her outstanding scientific achievements in the field of neurogenesis – the generation of neurons in the adult brain. Götz was elected to membership in the ‘Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina’ in 2007. The Mendel Medal will be presented at the spring reception of the Leopoldina and Friends of the Leopoldina Academy on February 18, 2020 in Halle (Saale).

Prof. Magdalena Götz, Developmental Biologist at Helmholtz Zentrum München. © Helmholtz Zentrum München

During her scientific career, Magdalena Götz has made numerous pioneering discoveries in the field of cell regeneration in the brain as well as the function of stem cells.

Among her achievements, the developmental biologist discovered that glial cells, which form the supporting tissue of the nervous system, also have stem cell properties, and she thereby initiated a paradigm shift in neuroscience. Götz identified a molecular mechanism in which the transcription factor Pax6 stimulates glial cells in a few regions of the adult brain to generate neurons. The fact that glial cells function as stem cells and that neurons can emerge from them raises a new perspective on neurogenesis and the differentiation of the cerebral cortex.

Götz and her team also investigated how glial cells behave after injury to the brain. Initially, she was able to show that the transcription factor Pax6 stimulates some glial cells to form immature neurons even after injury. In more recent model experiments, she succeeded in transforming the treated glial cells almost completely into mature and functional nerve cells. Her research is therefore of great importance for applied stem cell research and new therapeutic approaches to brain injuries and diseases.

Magdalena Götz has been the director of the Institute of Stem Cell Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München since 2004 and is head of the Department of Physiological Genomics at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU). She studied biology in Tübingen and Zurich, Switzerland, before earning her doctorate in 1992 with research conducted at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen. Subsequently, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Medical Research in London and at SmithKline Beecham in Harlow, UK. From 1998 to 2003 she led a research group at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried. The Leopoldina elected Götz as a member in 2007. In the same year, the German Research Foundation honored her with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, and the Bayer Foundations awarded her the Hansen Family Prize. In 2013, her research achievements were honored with an ERC Advanced Grant.

The Mendel Medal was established in 1965 in honor of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), the founder of genetics. With this award, the Leopoldina honors pioneering achievements in the field of general and molecular biology or genetics. Previous medal winners include the biophysicist and Nobel Prize laureate Max Delbrück (1967) and the biologist Sydney Brenner (1970), who received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2002.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

TheInstitute of Stem Cell Research (ISF) investigates the basic molecular and cellular mechanisms of stem cell maintenance and differentiation. From that, the ISF then develops approaches in order to replace defect cell types, either by activating resting stem cells or by re-programming other existing cell types to repair themselves. The aim of these approaches is to stimulate the regrowth of damaged, pathologically changed or destroyed tissue.