Researching Brain Diseases

Even today there are many unknowns when it comes to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain cancer, epilepsy and depression, and we still can’t fully comprehend these diseases that afflict so many in our society. The Brain Diseases Fund was set up to find answers to some of the most pressing questions in this area.

The Brain Diseases Fund promotes non-clinical basic research at the University of Zurich by supporting junior researchers. The UZH Foundation uses the funds to hand out annual prizes to young scientists for their outstanding contributions in the field of brain diseases. The UZH Award for Research in Brain Diseases was first awarded in 2006. The awarding of funds is overseen by an advisory board.

Apply for the Brain Diseases Award

Are you a PhD candidate looking to boost your research on brain diseases? Apply for the Brain Diseases Award and present your findings to our prestigious panel of experts. The UZH Foundation awards yearly prizes (of CHF 10,000 each) for outstanding research among all submissions. Here you can find informations on the rules for applicants. Please submit your application in full as a PDF file by 30 April to Prof. Dr. Amedeo Caflisch.

Rules for Applicants Brain Diseases Award

The advisory board is made up of the following members:

  • Prof. Dr. Amedeo Caflisch, Department of Biochemistry UZH
  • Prof. Dr. Sebastian Jessberger, Brain Research Institute UZH
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Schaepman, President UZH
  • Prof. Dr. Ben Schuler, Department of Biochemistry UZH

Ekaterina Friebel: Award Winner 2021

Research Focus
Brain malignancies have a very poor prognosis, largely due to limitations of standard therapies. Defining the specific immunological signature of brain tumors can facilitate the rational design of targeted immunotherapy strategies. My thesis aimed to answer whether the brain tumor immune composition is predominantly shaped by the brain micromilieu or the malignancy itself. We studied the diversity, origin, and function of brain tumor-associated macrophages and lymphocytes using the recent advances in cytometry. Surprisingly, the heterogeneous composition of tissue-resident and invading immune cells alone permitted a clear distinction between primary brain tumors (gliomas) and brain metastases. Tissue-invading tumor-associated macrophages showed a distinctive signature trajectory, revealing tumor-driven instruction along with contrasting lymphocyte activation and exhaustion.

David Tingley: Award Winner 2021

Research Focus
The hippocampus has been implicated in both cognitive and endocrine functions. To identify an activity pattern which may link such disparate functions, we simultaneously measured electrophysiological activity from the hippocampus and interstitial glucose concentrations in the body of freely behaving rats. We report that clusters of sharp wave-ripples (SPW-Rs) recorded from the hippocampus reliably predicted a decrease in peripheral glucose concentrations within ~10 minutes. This correlation was not dependent on circadian, ultradian, or meal-triggered fluctuations, it could be mimicked with optogenetically induced ripples in the hippocampus, but not in the parietal cortex, and was attenuated to chance levels by pharmacogenetically suppressing activity of the lateral septum (LS), the major conduit between the hippocampus and hypothalamus. Our findings demonstrate that a novel function of the SPW-R is to modulate peripheral glucose homeostasis and offer a mechanism for the link between sleep disruption and blood glucose dysregulation in type 2 diabetes.

Dasha Nelidova: Award Winner 2021

Research Focus
Retinal degeneration is an important cause of blindness. There is ongoing work to restore vision using optogenetic light sensors. Optogenetic proteins are sensitive only to the brightest visible light, at intensities that overwhelm surviving functional photoreceptors. Yet, in a number of blinding diseases, light-sensitive and light-insensitive photoreceptor zones coexist within the same retina.

Nelidova et al. reasoned that sensitizing the retina to wavelengths that functional photoreceptors are unable to detect (>900 nm) could supplement deteriorating natural vision, without interfering with the ability to see the visible spectrum. Inspired by infrared vision in snakes, they developed nanogenetic molecular tools that allowed blind mice and ex vivo human retinas to see near-infrared light. This technology may be able to restore central vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Award Winners

Looking at the funds awarded so far, a pleasing peculiarity can be noted: 18 of the 24 prizes for groundbreaking results in brain research were awarded to female PhD students. The Brain Diseases Award thus not only honors great innovative potential, it also promotes women in science at the same time.

2021 Ekaterina Friebel, UZH

2021 Dasha Nelidova, University of Basel

2021 David Tingley, NYU Neuroscience Institute

2020 Claire Gizowski, UC San Francisco
Interplay between peripheral signals, behaviour and the central clock

2020 Sofie Ährlund-Richter, Karolinska Institute
On the Neuronal Correlates of Cognition: Cell-type specific Circuitry and Function of the Prefrontal

2020 Xuyu Qian, Harvard University
Modeling Human Brain Development and Disorders Using HiPSC-derived Organoids

2019 Sara Bottes, UZH
Live imaging of neurogenesis in the adult mouse hippocampus.

2018 Gioele La Manno, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
RNA velocity in single cells.

2017 Tobias Wauer, University of Cambridge
Structure of the human Parkin ligase domain in an autoinhibited state.

2016 Lisa Traunmüller, University of Basel
Control of neuronal synapse specification by a highly dedicated alternative splicing program.

2015 Anne Maass, University of Magdeburg
Vascular hippocampal plasticity after aerobic exercise in older adults.

2014 Katharina Gapp, UZH
Implication of sperm RNAs in transgenerational inheritance of the effects of early trauma in mice.

2014 Marc Aurel Busche, TU München
Clusters of hyperactive neurons near amyloid plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.

2012 Amelie Ebke, LMU München
Novel γ-secretase snzyme modulators directly target presenilin protein.

2013 Sandra Giovanoli, ETH Zurich
Stress in puberty unmasks latent neuropathological consequences of prenatal immune activation in mice.

2011 Stéphanie Vuillermot, ETH Zurich
The recombinant amyloid-beta peptide Abeta1-42 aggregates faster and is more neurotoxic than
synthetic Abeta1-42.

2010 Andreas Vitalis, Washington University in St. Louis
Quantitative characterization of intrinsic disorder in polyglutamine: insights from analysis based on
polymer theories.

2010 Verena Finder, ETH Zürich
The recombinant amyloid-beta peptide Abeta1-42 aggregates faster and is more neurotoxic than
synthetic Abeta1-42.

2008 Carsten Sachse, University of Jena
Paired β-sheet structure of an Aβ(1-40) amyloid fibril revealed by electron microscopy

2009 Susanne Schneider, University of Lübeck
Mutations in the THAP1 (DYT6) gene- a cause of generalized dystonia with prominent spasmodic

2008 Anat Frydman-Marom, University of Tel Aviv
Cognitive performance recovery of Alzheimer's disease model mice by modulating early soluble
amyloid assemblies.

2007 Eline Vrieseling, University of Basel
Target-induced transcriptional control of dendritic patterning and connectivity in motor neurons by
the ETS gene Pea3.

2007 Marlen Knobloch, UZH
Intracellular Aβ and cognitive deficits precede β-amyloid depositiobloch UZH'Intracellular Aβ and cognitive deficits precede β-amyloid depositiobloch UZH'Intracellular Aβ and cognitive deficits precede β-amyloid deposition in transgenic arcAβ mice.

2006 Mathias Heikenwälder, UZH
Chronic lymphocytic inflammation specifies the organ tropism of prions.


Tonja Küng
Executive Assistant

+41 44 634 61 91