The Scientific Committee of the IBRO Kemali Foundation is pleased to announce that the 11th IBRO Kemali Prize has been awarded to Dr. Guillermina López-Bendito "in recognition of her outstanding work on mechanisms of axon guidance in brain development, and in particular in thalamocortical connectivity." López-Bendito is a Senior Scientist at the Instituto de Neurociencias, Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche (UMH)-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Alicante, Spain. She has also been an EMBO Young Investigator since 2013 and a FENS-Kavli Scholar since 2014.
López-Bendito obtained her PhD at the Instituto de Neurociencias UMH-CSIC and pursued postdoctoral training with Professor Zoltán Molnar and Professor Colin Blakemore in the Department of Human Anatomy & Genetics at Oxford University (UK). She was then granted the prestigious Ramon y Cajal Fellowship and returned to Spain, where she now focuses her research on understanding how the developing brain forms its pattern of neuronal activity. More specifically, she is looking at the basic mechanisms required for normal development of the thalamocortical projection which allows the brain to have an organized awareness of the outside world. Learn more about Dr. López-Bendito in her interview with IBRO below.
1. Why did you first become interested in the field of neuroscience in general and the development of thalamocortical axonal connections in particular?
When I was in the last year of my Biology degree at university, we were approached by a scientist - in this case, it was a neuroscientist - who was “hunting” for new students. I was thrilled about his studies and discoveries in the brain and I decided to join his lab. It could have been a researcher from another discipline but this was not the case. During my PhD, I worked in aspects of brain development and I used to see all these developing axons on the side. After that, I decided to spend my career in studying the mechanisms involved in brain connectivity and, in particular, those involved in the formation of the thalamocortical connection which is one of the most important connections in the brain as it conveys sensory information to the cerebral cortex in a highly specific manner.
2. Which scientists have inspired you?
During the course of my scientific career, I have met scientists who were able to see a scientific problem in a different way and offer an answer that opened a new avenue of research. These people are always an inspiration and, thankfully, I have met several in the past and continue to meet new ones now in the present. Moreover, my inspiration was also found in other scientists who, following a “continuous” line of thinking, are able to advance their field by building a solid background of knowledge. In times when the requirement for rapid publication is pressing, being committed to producing good basic science at a continuous pace is a plus.
3. What do you hope to accomplish in your research in the next decade?
I hope to be able to determine the mechanisms involved in brain circuit plasticity following sensory deprivation and the role of the thalamus in these processes. Moreover, I hope to find ways to functionally restore sensory brain circuits by reprogramming thalamic cells. These are our central research goals and we will do our best to accomplish them in the near future.
4. What do you consider as today's biggest challenges in neuroscience research?
There are many big challenges in neuroscience research nowadays. One is the need for an integration of studies across different levels of analysis. For example, studies are often focused on genetic, molecular, cellular, circuit, computational or behavioral analyses, and do not often integrate across multiple levels. We need to bridge the gap between theoretical and experimental neuroscience. Regarding specific research questions, I personally think that we require new methods to label specific neurons and connections combined with functional approaches to be able to advance our knowledge on the rules governing neural circuit assembly during development and plasticity.
5. How will you use your IBRO Kemali Prize?
I anticipate that this recognition will help me and my laboratory to disseminate our research in basic neuroscience and thus contribute to networking activities and collaborations that probably would not have occurred otherwise. I have people in completely different scientific disciplines coming up to me at talks or conferences who want to discuss possible interdisciplinary implications and projects. Holding this prestigious award will help to attract more attention to the field of nervous system development and the field of neuroscience in general.
6. Do you have any advice for young researchers who are building their careers right now?
Be persevering and push forward with your motivation and drive. Find a place where all these important qualities are being encouraged, and if this means moving away from your own city or country then do so. Don't be afraid. Nowadays, there are many places worldwide with research and funding opportunities, so I encourage young researches to open their minds and take full advantage of this. I certainly advise young researches to find good mentors who can follow them in every important step of their careers. Finally, for young and especially for advanced postdocs, I would suggest spending a good amount of time in clearly formulating the scientific question that they try to respond to and placing it in a broad and relevant context.
The IBRO Kemali Prize (25 000 Euro) will be presented to Dr. López-Bendito at the FENS Forum 2018 in Berlin, where she will also deliver the IBRO-Kemali Lecture.