Cambridge stem cell scientist Dr Florian T. Merkle has been announced as a 2017 Young Investigator (C.J. Herrick) Award winner by the American Association on Anatomists. The Young Investigator awards recognise outstanding investigators in the early stages of their careers who have made important contributions to the field of biomedical science.
Florian’s research investigates the function of brain cells in the hypothalamus, a small almond-sized area of the brain that is involved in maintaining a constant internal environment in the body (a process called homeostasis). Florian and his team have developed a technique that allows hypothalamic brain cells to be grown in the lab from human pluripotent stem cells. The genetic code of these cells is then edited to introduce disease-causing mutations, allowing the processes underlying different diseases to be investigated. In particular, Florian and his team are interested in the hypothalamic brain cells that control appetite in order to understand the causes of obesity.
Previous recipients of this award include include Feng Zhang, Cori Bargmann, Mahendra Rao and Marc Tessier-Lavigne. The award will be presented during the Closing Awards Ceremony at AAA's 2017 annual meeting at Experimental Biology in Chicago, IL. Other award recipients that will be honored include Dr Maria Barna (Stanford University), Dr Gloria Brar (University of California, Berkely) and Dr Shigeki Watanabe (Johns Hopkins University). The ceremony is being held at the Hilton Chicago on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
Image caption: Human pluripotent stem cells can be differentiated into hypothalamic neurons that produce agouti-related peptide (red) that potently stimulate feeding behaviour, as well as neurons that produce pro-piomelanocortin (green) and that inhibit feeding. Cell nuclei are shown in blue (DAPI). These neuron types can be studied in vitro to model the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to obesity.