March 28, 2014

IST Austria neuroscientist receives HFSP grant

Simon Hippenmeyer cooperates with partners in US and UK on assembly of cerebral cortex • Total fund of US $ 400’000/year for three years • Sixth HFSP grant for IST Austria

Simon Hippenmeyer, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), has been awarded a Program Grant by the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP). Together with three research groups in the US and the UK, the neuroscientist will study how a major brain region, the cerebral cortex, is assembled during development.

The Human Frontier Science Program funds frontier research in the life sciences. The highly competitive grants are regarded as very prestigious in the life sciences field, and program grant supports novel collaborations among teams of scientists. The project “Quantitative structure-function analysis of cerebral cortex assembly at clonal level” brings together the research of neuroscientist Song-Hai Shi at the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, New York; physicist Benjamin Simons at the University of Cambridge, UK; biomedical informatician Kun Huang at Ohio State University; and Simon Hippenmeyer at IST Austria. It is funded in total with US $ 400’000/year (€ 290’000), for a duration of three years. This year, 24 Program Grants and 10 Young Investigator Grants were selected from a total of over 800 letters of intent and 92 subsequently invited full applications. So far, six scientists at IST Austria have managed to acquire these highly prestigious grants.

In their HFSP-funded project, the researchers seek to understand how the cortex, the brain region that controls all higher order brain functions such as perception, emotion, language and cognition, is constructed. The cortex has a strikingly clear structure: cortical neurons form vertical columns, and all neurons within a column are connected by precise synapses to form local circuits. How these precise circuits are assembled in repetitive columns during development is not understood yet. The researchers assume that cortex assembly is fundamentally influenced by the order in which neurons are born, called the neuronal lineage. In their project, Hippenmeyer and his colleagues will examine how individual neuronal lineages develop both structurally and functionally. The researchers take an interdisciplinary approach to visualize neuronal lineages in vivo with unprecedented resolution. They will develop mathematical models of how a neuronal lineage is built, identify molecular signatures defining lineages and so uncover principles of circuits’ spatial and functional organization.

Simon Hippenmeyer is a Swiss neurobiologist. He received his PhD in 2004 after performing his predoctoral studies in the group of Silvia Arber at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel and Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel. Hippenmeyer spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in Silvia Arber’s lab before joining the laboratory of Liqun Luo at Stanford University as a postdoctoral fellow in 2006. Hippenmeyer joined IST Austria as Assistant Professor in 2012. In his research, Hippenmeyer seeks to understand the logic of how individual neurons successively build up the cerebral cortex during development. He employs the genetic MADM (Mosaic Analysis with Double Markers) technology, an unparalleled method to visualize and concomitantly manipulate sparse clones and small subsets of genetically defined neurons at the single cell level in mice.

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