Driving global impact

Ella Rhodes reports on the Nature Research Awards.

02 December 2019

The winner and runners-up of the first Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact have been announced. The awards, for early-career researchers, aim to celebrate those whose work has made, or has the potential to make, a positive impact on society and this year focused on brain science.

Neuroscientist Professor Tom Baden (University of Sussex) was the inaugural winner of the award for his research on vision as well as democratising access to expensive lab equipment. Baden’s research on mice and zebrafish has found that the computational power of the eyes has been underestimated – he discovered that the retina, rather than being a passive recording device, actually sends highly processed signals to the brain. He has also built his own lab equipment including pipettes and microscopes using techniques including 3D printing, and has published those designs under open source licences.   

Editor-in-Chief of Nature, Magdalena Skipper, said that Baden was a paragon for early-career scientists. ‘His research has already changed the state of human knowledge enough to require a fundamental rewrite of neuroscience and medical physiology textbooks. What’s equally impressive is his open-source approach that could transform the access to lab instruments and has gone beyond his own field of neuroscience.’

Professor Alan Gow (Heriot-Watt University) was named as one of two runners up in the awards for his work on promoting brain health in old age. As Lab Director for The Ageing Lab Gow and his team explore lifestyle and community interventions to protect against cognitive decline with the results of one three-year project set to be released soon.

Gow said in a statement: ‘Over the years, I’ve been lucky to not only be supported by and work alongside many excellent researchers at all levels, but to also develop truly collaborative projects with our colleagues at Age Scotland and Age UK. They are the people who really drive the impact of the work we do, shaping how those messages get to the public and policymakers.’

Dr Luisa Alexandra Meireles Pinto from the Life and Health Sciences Research Institute (University of Minho, Portugal) was named as another runner up for her work exploring glial cells and depression. She told Nature: ‘…More than 30 per cent of the depressed patients do not respond to any of the available therapies. As such, finding novel targets for disruption is of major relevance for the development of novel, more effective therapeutic approaches. Glial cells have been mostly disregarded in the context of mental health, namely depression. This project will provide an innovative and integrated view on the importance of hippocampal astroglial plasticity and function for the healthy and “depressed” brain, using cutting-edge methodology.’