Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, PhD, was announced today as the recipient of the 2023 Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize by Gladstone Institutes. Zernicka-Goetz is a professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology in the Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Bren Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
A pioneering stem cell scientist, Zernicka-Goetz was selected for the prize because of her work uncovering fundamental mechanisms that drive the development of mammalian embryos, which led to the creation of human embryo models that self-assemble from pluripotent stem cells—cells that can develop into nearly any cell in the body—in a dish. The 3D models, which develop brain structures and a beating heart, appeared in Nature’s list of “Seven technologies to watch in 2023.”
“We are very happy to present this year’s prize to Dr. Zernicka-Goetz,” says Deepak Srivastava, MD, chair of the selection committee and president of Gladstone. “She has provided the scientific community with powerful new research tools and a remarkable view into steps of development that are usually hidden because they happen when the embryo implants into the womb. Her work sets the foundation for novel paths toward overcoming disease.”
Established in 2015 by a generous gift from the Hiro and Betty Ogawa family, the Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize honors scientists conducting groundbreaking work in translational regenerative medicine using reprogrammed cells. The prize is supported by Gladstone and Cell Press.
“I am thrilled and hopeful to see how our discoveries will help to advance regenerative medicine, from improving the chances of a healthy pregnancy to, perhaps, developing synthetic organs for life-saving transplantation.”
The prize also recognizes Gladstone Senior Investigator Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, who received a Nobel Prize in 2012 for his discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which are adult cells that can be reprogrammed to a stem-cell state similar to human embryonic stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells have played a central role in much of Zernicka-Goetz’s research.
“I am deeply honored to receive the Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize for my work,” Zernicka-Goetz says. “During my career so far, it has been a privilege to contribute to better understanding mammalian development. I am thrilled and hopeful to see how our discoveries will help to advance regenerative medicine, from improving the chances of a healthy pregnancy to, perhaps, developing synthetic organs for life-saving transplantation.”
For more than 25 years, Zernicka-Goetz has led research on developmental biology at the University of Cambridge. She carried out her PhD work in mammalian development at the University of Warsaw and the University of Oxford. Following a postdoctoral position at Cambridge, she established her laboratory there.
Zernicka-Goetz was selected for the 2023 Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize by an independent committee of international stem cell experts from a highly competitive pool of nominees. A ceremony will be held this fall at Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, during which she will give a scientific lecture and will be presented with the award, along with an unrestricted prize of $150,000 USD.
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Gladstone Institutes is an independent, nonprofit life science research organization that uses visionary science and technology to overcome disease. Established in 1979, it is located in the epicenter of biomedical and technological innovation, in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. Gladstone has created a research model that disrupts how science is done, funds big ideas, and attracts the brightest minds.
A developmental and stem cell biologist, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, PhD, is a professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Bren Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
Zernicka-Goetz carried out her PhD studies in mammalian development at the University of Warsaw and the University of Oxford, and her postdoctoral studies in stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge. She was awarded senior research fellowships from the Lister Institute, Sidney Sussex College, and the Wellcome Trust for establishing her group at the University of Cambridge, where she became tenured professor in 2010. In 2019, she established her group at Caltech as the Bren Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering.
In her early work, Zernicka-Goetz developed ways of tracking and modulating cell fate in the living embryo. She found that when abnormal cells arise in the embryo, they are eliminated through programmed cell death immediately before and during implantation and only in the part of the embryo that creates a new organism.
With her team, she established the first methods for culturing and studying human embryos beyond implantation in vitro, until day 14, and continues to use this approach in her current research to uncover mechanisms behind human development and the defects that result from specific aneuploidies. Building upon her knowledge of natural development, she pioneered methods through which multiple stem cell types are directed to assemble into complete embryo models, providing unprecedented opportunities for dissecting the genetic and physical parameters governing organogenesis.
Zernicka-Goetz’s lab has given rise to many scientific leaders throughout the world. She is active in promoting equality through her work with scientific academies and non-profit charities. She has two children and the interplay of her personal and scientific journey is described in her biography, The Dance of Life: The New Science of How a Single Cell Becomes a Human Being.
The Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize recognizes individuals whose original translational research has advanced cellular reprogramming technology for regenerative medicine. Supported by Gladstone Institutes, in partnership with Cell Press, the prize was established in 2015 through a generous gift from Betty and Hiro Ogawa. It has been maintained through their sons, Andrew and Marcus Ogawa, to honor the Ogawas’ memory by continuing the philanthropic legacy they shared during their 46-year marriage. It also recognizes the importance of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), discovered by Gladstone Senior Investigator and Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD.
Past recipients include Masayo Takahashi, MD, PhD, in 2015; Douglas Melton, PhD, in 2016; Lorenz Studer, MD, in 2017; Marius Wernig, MD, PhD, in 2018; Gordon Keller, PhD, in 2019; and Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, PhD, in 2022.
The 2023 selection committee was composed of George Daley, MD, PhD, dean of Harvard Medical School; Hideyuki Okano, MD, PhD, dean of the School of Medicine at Keio University; Deepak Srivastava, MD, president of Gladstone Institutes and director of the Roddenberry Stem Cell Center at Gladstone; Lorenz Studer, MD, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Fiona Watt, FRS, FMedSci, director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College, London; and Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, senior investigator at Gladstone and professor in the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University.
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