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Taiwan’s highest scientific award goes to Hannah Monyer

No. 13 | 16/03/2017 | by Koh

The Taiwanese science council has awarded Hannah Monyer of the German Cancer Research Center and Heidelberg University Hospital the Tsungming Tu prize for her groundbreaking work on memory. The prize is the highest academic honor in Taiwan for foreign scientists and carries with it an endowment of $75,000.

Hannah Monyer

How does our memory work and how do we learn? Those are the great questions that motivate Hannah Monyer's research. The Neurobiologist concentrates on the molecular mechanisms that lead to synchronous neural network activities and influence these. When this occurs, a number of nerve cells begin "firing" and therefore facilitate cognitive processes like learning and remembering.

Monyer's goal is to make new discoveries regarding the cells and molecules that inhabit key roles in these processes. Researchers hope that this will grant new insights into psychological and neurological diseases that coincide with a deterioration of cognitive abilities.

One component that is key to learning and memory are the so called inhibitory interneurons, which produce the neurotransmitter GABA. Monyer was able to show how these interneurons are interconnected with other nerve cells and can synchronize these in milliseconds. The synchronous activity of neural circuits underlies the cognitive functions.

The neuro scientist is currently concentrating on the plasticity of the brain, meaning its adaptability which is based on the integration of newly born nerve cells into existing networks. To this end, she examined genes which are involved in cell birth, cell migration and cell differentiation.

Hannah Monyer studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg. After her approbation, she worked as an assistant doctor, first in Mannheim in Child and Youth Psychiatry, and starting in 1984 in Neuropediatrics in Lübeck. As a post doctorate starting in 1986, Hannah Monyer researched at Stanford University Medical Center, and from 1989 to 1994 she was at the Center for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg. In 1993 she habilitated there and received her teaching permission for biochemistry. In 1994 she became the Hermann und Lilly Schilling Foundation professor and was able to create her own research team.

In 1999, Hannah Monyer became medical director of clinical neurobiology at the Heidelberg University Hospital. Since 2009 she has been leading the cooperation department of Clinical Neurobiology at the German Cancer Research Center and the Heidelberg University Hospital.

Hannah Monyer has been the recipient of several awards, including the Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz prize in 2004 and the Philip Morris Research prize in 2006. She has received the Bundesverdienstkreuz and is a member of EMBO and the Heidelberger Academy of Sciences. In 2010 she received an advanced grant from the European Research Council.

The Tsungming Tu prize dates back to a cooperation agreement between the Alexander von Humboldt foundation and the Taiwanese National Science Council in 2006. Is is awarded to internationally recognized scientists for extraordinary achievements and is meant to strengthen German-Taiwanese science relations. Harald von Hausen was among the recipients in 2011, as well as Christoph Plass in 2016. Hannah Monyer is the third recipient of the award from the DKFZ.

The prize, which carries with it an endowment of $75.000, was awarded at a ceremony in Taipeh on March 14th. The prize is named after physician Tu Tsing Ming, who became the first Taiwanese man to receive medical doctorate in 1922.

A picture of the recipient of the prize can be downloaded at:

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The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.


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