In 2012, the Award was given to Ilka Diester, a researcher at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) in Cooperation with Max Planck Society (Frankfurt am Main, Germany).
The award winner is interested in studying the neural mechanisms controlling movements, with a particular focus on the impact of neuronal connectivity differences between mammalian species. She combines optogenetic techniques with complex behaviors in rodents and rhesus monkeys to dissect the neural circuits underlying movements. Her dual-species approach allows fast developments of new tools in rodents and direct translation of knowledge to rhesus monkeys which are able to conduct more complex and controlled movements. Compared with electrical stimulation, optogenetic manipulations have a more subtle effect on behavior in rhesus monkeys. Her project aims at investigating the differences between electrical and optical stimulation further and define the neural circuits in rodents and primates underlying the differential impact of optogenetic stimulation on behavior. This will enable a better understanding of the stimulation methods and the neural mechanisms for movement control in both species.
Dr. Ilka Diester graduated from the Humboldt University (Berlin, Germany). She received a PhD in Neuroscience in 2008 from the University of Tübingen (Tübingen, Germany) for her studies on the neural correlates of numerical competence in rhesus monkeys in the laboratory of Andreas Nieder. She then joined Karl Deisseroth’s laboratory for Bioengineering and the Neural Prosthetic Systems laboratory led by Krishna Shenoy at the Stanford University (Stanford, USA) as a post-doctoral fellow funded by the Human Frontier Science Program. There she established optogenetics in rhesus monkeys and developed strategies for advancing optogenetics in non-transgenic animals with a promoter-independent projection targeting approach. In 2011, she returned to Germany as a research group leader and started her own group at the Ernst-Strüngmann-Institute (Frankfurt, Germany), with the scientific goal of defining the underlying brain activities and connectivity patterns necessary for movement generation.
The Boehringer-Ingelheim FENS Award 2012 was presented in Barcelona during the Forum of European Neuroscience 2012 (July 14-18, 2012). The prize winner gave a special lecture at the meeting.