Prisca Liberali awarded EMBO Gold Medal 2022
She is recognized for her exceptional contributions to understanding the formation of intestinal organoids from stem cells and for developing new analytical tools
24 June 2022 – Molecular cell biologist Prisca Liberali, senior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI), adjunct professor of systems cell biology at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and EMBO Young Investigator, is the recipient of this year’s EMBO Gold Medal. The medal is awarded annually to scientists under the age of 40 for outstanding contributions to the life sciences in Europe. The awardee receives a gold medal and a bursary of 10,000 euros.
Liberali receives the award for her outstanding research that defined the mechanisms driving the formation of 3D intestinal organoids, sometimes called “mini-guts”, from stem cell cultures. In recent work, her group characterized the mechanisms that trigger symmetry-breaking during the formation of mouse intestinal organoids. Symmetry-breaking events are important steps in pattern formation as they allow the differentiation of initially identical cells and lineage segregation in developing tissues. The research showed that YAP1 activation is required for the formation of symmetrical cysts, and that this followed by its inactivation for symmetry-breaking events that allow the formation of crypts. The group also characterized the mechanical forces driving the formation of intestinal crypts.
She is also recognized for developing new quantitative experimental platforms and statistical frameworks that build on her multidisciplinary approach. These include a light-sheet microscope, which enables tracking of individual cells during intestinal organoid development over a timeframe of weeks, and an image-based screening assay for small compounds that has identified novel compounds that improve intestinal regeneration in vivo.
“Prisca Liberali has assembled a highly productive lab at the FMI. Her work uniquely combines the reductionist organoid platform with high-end biophysical, molecular, and image-analytical methods. It is clear that this approach has already been hugely successful, while much more is in the pipeline,” says EMBO Member Hans Clevers, head of pharma research and early development at Roche, Switzerland, and advisor/guest researcher at the Hubrecht Institute, the Netherlands, who has pioneered the intestinal organoid system. Liberali has been a visiting scientist in his lab.
The awardee of the EMBO Gold Medal 2022 will give a lecture at Cell Bio 2022, a joint meeting of ASCB and EMBO, that will take place in Washington, DC, USA, from 3 to 7 December 2022.
INFORMATION FOR EDITORS
Prisca Liberali studied chemistry at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, and completed a PhD in physical chemistry at Mario Negri Sud Foundation, Italy. She then carried out postdoctoral research at ETH Zurich and Zurich University, Switzerland, developing new single-cell methods and statistical approaches to model complex patterns of cell-to-cell variability in human cells. In 2015, Liberali started her own research group at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, and became an Assistant Professor at the University of Basel.
Liberali has made important contributions in fields ranging from fundamental chemistry to in vivo tissue regeneration. She is fascinated by the role of self-organization in collective cell behaviours, and how these are co-ordinated by biochemical and mechanical cues. Her research group develops novel experimental, quantitative, and statistical methods for decoding the design principles of tissue organization, and made innovations in the field of image-based single-cell approaches. Liberali set up new light-sheet and high-throughput imaging approaches to quantify cell-to-cell variability in cell cultures, organoids, and early synthetic embryos. Recently, she showed that initial symmetry breaking in intestinal organoids is determined by variation in mechano-sensing in individual cells and identified compounds that improve intestinal regeneration in vivo.
As a supportive mentor, Liberali openly shares and discusses new ideas, encourages collaboration, and has a strong record of research and mentorship that ensures the success of her trainees. She became an EMBO Young Investigator in 2019 and has been awarded the Friedrich Miescher Prize in 2020.
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