UCL awards Neuroscience early career prize to NIMR postdoctoral student

18 July 2011

Dr Rita Sousa-Nunes winner of the UCL Neuroscience Prize

Image: Dr Rita Sousa-Nunes from the National Institute for Medical Research, winner of the UCL Neuroscience Prize 2011.©  UCL

Rita Sousa Nunes, from the Division of Developmental Neurobiology at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR; now part of the Francis Crick Institute), has been recognised with the UCL Neuroscience Early Career Prize in its first year. The prize follows the publication of her paper "Fat cells reactivate quiescent neuroblasts via TOR and glial Insulin relays in Drosophila" in the journal Nature. The prize was shared with Tiago Branco from the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research.

The two winners received £500 each and were given the opportunity to speak about their research at the UCL Neuroscience Symposium. Dr Sousa Nunes said: "This symposium really brought home how strong and broad the field of neuroscience is at UCL; from work on the molecular to cognition. It is thus an incredible honour to have our work highlighted in the form of a prize, including the opportunity of presenting it at the symposium."

Summary of Dr Sousa-Nunes' winning paper: "Stem cells can replenish damaged tissues with new cells, which fuels hopes for new therapies. However, for stem cell therapies to be safe and successful we need to be able to control stem cell divisions as, if uncontrolled, these divisions can generate tumours. Stem cells often undergo periods of dormancy, when they do not divide. Understanding what regulates this dormant state (known as quiescence) can give us clues as to how to switch stem cells 'on' and 'off'. We have identified a mechanism regulating the switching back 'on' of neural stem cell divisions in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Neural stem cells in the brain react to amino acid availability in the blood. They sense this availability indirectly, however: adipocytes relay this information to glial cells in the brain, which in turn pass on the information to the neural stem cells. It will be worthwhile investigating whether human adipose tissue sends similar signals to glial cells."