We are very pleased to announce that this year’s Waddington medal winner is Professor Marysia Placzek, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at the School of Biosciences, University of Sheffield. Marysia’s research career has led to several key contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms directing patterning of the vertebrate nervous system.

The Waddington Medal is the only national award in Developmental Biology. It honours outstanding research performance as well as services to the subject community. This year’s medal was awarded at the European Developmental Biology Congress, hosted by the BSDB at Oxford, where the recipient presented the Waddington Medal Lecture.


Marysia Placzek is an outstanding and internationally leading Developmental Biologist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of how signalling directs patterning of the vertebrate nervous system, and to leadership and pedagogy of the field. Marysia uncovered how tissue interactions and combinations of signals regulate the organisation of cell fate and assembly of neural circuits in the spinal cord and hypothalamus. Her papers are masterworks in precise observation and elegant experimental design, and many have become foundational. As deputy and then acting Director of the MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics (2007-2013), Marysia has been instrumental in building Developmental Biology research at the University of Sheffield. She subsequently established the Bateson Centre, a cross-faculty inter-disciplinary research centre, to provide a focus for translational approaches to development and disease research at the University. In addition to leading research initiatives, Marysia is a passionate Developmental Biology teacher: running modules in Developmental Biology, Developmental Neurobiology, and Stem & Regenerative Biology. She is now bringing this, more than 20 years teaching experience, to a new role as co-editor, along with Cheryll Tickle, of Lewis Wolpert’s core textbook “Principles of Development”.

Following PhD research on proviral integration sites in mouse mammary carcinomas with Gordon Peters at the ICRF (1987-1992), Marysia moved to New York as a post-doc with Jane Dodd at Columbia University. During this time, she made two fundamental, textbook changing, contributions to our understanding of neural development. With Marc Tessier-Lavigne, she demonstrated that spinal cord floor-plate cells secrete a diffusible factor that influences the pattern and orientation of commissural axon growth (Nature 1988); this discovery presaged characterisation of the Netrin family of axon guidance molecules. She then went on to define the crucial role of the notochord/floor plate in patterning the central nervous system along its dorso-ventral axis (Science, 1990). The discovery of this fundamental tissue interaction underpinned the subsequent identification of Sonic hedgehog as the mediator of this activity, a breakthrough to which Marysia also contributed. As an independent investigator, Marysia has focussed on the role of the most anterior axial mesoderm, the prechordal plate, which emerges from the primitive streak just prior to the notochord. Marysia and her team have uncovered the mechanisms by which the prechordal plate orchestrates development of the hypothalamus (Cell 1997) and described the development of hypothalamic progenitors. A key discovery is the existence of a modified floor plate-like cell that displays stem cell-like characteristics and that gives rise to discrete hypothalamic progenitor cell populations, involving a mechanism that links cell specification and anisotropic growth (Developmental Cell 2006; Development 2017). By combining fate-mapping studies, classic embryological manipulations and cutting-edge molecular approaches, Marysia’s work is uncovering the developmental origins of these earliest hypothalamic stem/progenitor cells, and the signals that induce and constrain them (Development 2017; Cell Reports 2022). Together, her studies provide a roadmap for hypothalamic development, from its induction, to regionalisation, to neurogenesis, and challenge the widely accepted prosomere model of forebrain organization. Moreover, Marysia’s identification of this stem-like population in the embryo led to her work in the adult mouse, and one of the first detailed descriptions of the maintenance of neurogenic progenitors in the postnatal hypothalamus (Nature Comms. 2013), a paper that is widely cited as evidence for an adult hypothalamic stem cell niche.

Marysia is an embryologist par excellence and is known for her supportive mentoring of trainees. Her work is characterised by remarkable insight into tissue organisation of the early nervous system and an extraordinary ability to identify, dissect and manipulate unique cell populations. Her independent work has elucidated intrinsic and environmental mechanisms that regulate hypothalamic stem and progenitor cells across the life course. Marysia’s contributions to research have been recognised by award of the Otto Mangold Prize from the German Society for Developmental Biology (1999) and the MRC Suffrage Science Heirloom (2012). She has and continues to take a leading role in the Developmental Biology community and beyond. On return from USA as a new PI and new mother, she ran (with husband Andy Furley), an Autumn meeting for the BSDB (baby on hip), and faithfully sends her students and post-docs to BSDB meetings. Marysia has been a member of numerous funding panels for MRC, BBSRC, CRUK, and Wellcome Trust (see CV) and she is the current Chair of the new Wellcome Cell Biology, Development and Physiology Discovery Advisory Group. She is a very deserving candidate for the Waddington Medal.

  • Kate Storey
  • James Briscoe

Key papers

Seminal early work:

Tessier-Lavigne, M., Placzek, M., Lumsden, A., Dodd, J. and Jessell, T.  (1988) Chemotropic guidance of developing axons in the mammalian central nervous system. Nature 336  775-778.

Placzek M, Tessier-Lavigne M, Yamada T, Jessell TM and Dodd J (1990).  Mesodermal control of neural cell identity:  floor plate induction by the notochord.  Science 250 985-988.

Independent research:

Dale K, Vesque C, Lints T.J. Sampath T.K, Furley A, Dodd J, and Placzek M.  (1997).  Co-operation of BMP7 and SHH in the Induction of forebrain ventral midline cells by prechordal mesoderm.  Cell 90 257-269

Manning E., Ohyama K., Saeger B., Hatano O, Wilson S., Logan M. and Placzek M. (2006).  Regional morphogenesis in the hypothalamus: a BMP-Tbx2 pathway co-ordinates fate and proliferation through Shh downregulation. Developmental Cell 11 873-885

Fu T, Towers M and Placzek M. (2017) Fgf10+ progenitors give rise to the chick hypothalamus by rostral and caudal growth and differentiation. Development 144(18):3278-3288

Kim DW, Place E, Chinnaiya K, Manning E, Sun C, Dai W, Groves I, Ohyama K, Burbridge S, Placzek M, Blackshaw S. (2022) Single-cell analysis of early chick hypothalamic development reveals that hypothalamic cells are induced from prethalamic-like progenitors. Cell Reports 38(3):110251.

Robins S, Stewart I, McNay DE, Taylor V, Giachino C, Goetz M, Ninkovic J, Briancon N, Maratos-Flier E, Flier JS, Kokoeva MV and Placzek M (2013) Alpha-tanycytes of the adult hypothalamic third ventricle include distinct populations of FGF-responsive neural progenitors. Nat. Commun. 4 2049

2023 Wolpert Medal Winner: Jonathan Slack

Following the sad passing of one of the greats of Developmental Biology, Lewis Wolpert, the BSDB committee has decided to launch a new annual medal in his honour. Lewis was well known for his ability to distil our subject’s most engaging and fundamental problems into concise and well-grounded core concepts of Biology. This led to vastly important contributions to research in our field, but also to the communication of its problems to a broader audience. Through teaching, popular science writing and acting as a spokesperson for Science as a whole, Lewis inspired many of us into the deeper study of Developmental Biology. Therefore, our annual ‘Wolpert medal’ will be presented to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and communication of Developmental Biology.We are very happy to announce that the third winner of the BSDB Wolpert medal is Prof. Jonathan Slack from the University of Bath.

Jonathan Slack often modestly states that some of his greatest career achievements were his scientific progeny, and some of these are indeed very good (including Abigail Tucker on our current committee).  But another very special output from Jonathan, besides his science, has been his books, several of which have been very influential over many years:

From Egg to Embryo (1983/1991), was widely lauded as the best overview of developmental biology for those in the field in the 90s and noughties, and was essential reading for all grad students at the time.  Its clarity and breadth are still wonderful.

Egg and Ego: an almost true story of life in the biology lab  (1999), was the “follow up” and is a humous, ironic look at a particular time in science and how folk did/do science.  Most of the stories and the labs and PIs are real, and only thinly disguised.  Not many people would have had the “front” to write such a book, but it gives a fantastic, if slightly skewed, portrayal of how cell and developmental biology actually works in labs, and was very well read and received at the time.

More recently Jonathan has published a number of OUP mini books on dev biology related topics: A very short intro to “Stem Cells”(2012) and  “Genes” (2014), both with very recent 2nd editions.  These are semi-lay books and both are fantastic examples of how to distil lots of stuff into the essence of the topic.  Jonathan is masterful at this.

He is also sole author of a text book, Essential Developmental Biology” used by many dev biol programmes at Universities around the world as their course text book.  While not quite as popular as the Gilbert and Wolpert textbooks, this is a beautifully crisp read and about to enter its 4th Edn (for which Les Dale, another of Jonathan’s progenies in now co-author).

Jonathan was very successful as a scientist; indeed, the BSDB awarded him the Waddington medal in 2002 for his contributions in mesoderm induction, regenerative biology and his cell transdifferention research, but he has also been hugely influential through his books.  We think he is someone who is worthy of both the Waddington medal and the Wolpert medal.

  • Paul Martin
  • Jeremy Green
  • Philip Ingham

2023 BSDB Beddington Medal Winner: Rasa Elmentaite

The Beddington Medal is the BSDB’s major commendation to promising young biologists, awarded for the best PhD thesis in Developmental Biology defended in the year previous to the award. Rosa Beddington was one of the greatest talents and inspirational leaders in the field of developmental biology. Rosa made an enormous contribution to the field in general and to the BSDB in particular, so it seemed entirely appropriate that the Society should establish a lasting memorial to her. The design of the medal, mice on a stylised DNA helix, is from artwork by Rosa herself.

Like many years, it was a tough decision for the BSBD committee to choose a winner for the 2023 Beddington medal. We are pleased to announce that this goes to Rasa Elmentaite, for her PhD work at the Sanger Institute on human gut development.

Rasa completed her PhD early in 2022 under the academic supervision of Sarah Teichmann, and is a phenomenal candidate for this prestigious award owing to a series of outstanding discoveries in human developmental biology. She is an exceptional young scientist with scientific and personal maturity well beyond her career stage and without doubt a future leader in the field.

Rasa received an Integrated BSc and MSc degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of Glasgow. During this time, she actively sought research opportunities and received fellowships for diverse research projects, including working with model organisms to understand intestinal stem cell biology and pain pathways in the central nervous system. Rasa’s active and impactful contribution to diverse research projects, her scientific intuition and independence set her apart early on, and earned her a place in the highly competitive 4-year Wellcome Sanger PhD programme in 2017.

Around that time, our understanding of how the tremendous cellular diversity of the human intestinal tract was generated during development was still in its infancy. Rasa saw how emerging single cell and spatial technologies applied to human tissues – sampled across the lifespan and across the spatial zones of the gut – could fill this gap in an unbiased manner. To achieve her aims, Rasa immediately immersed herself into the genomics field and rapidly built programming and data analysis skills, highlighting an impressive aptitude for research at the interface of wet and dry lab science. Over the course of her PhD, she obtained, processed and analysed human tissue samples from up to 11 intestinal regions and different developmental stages to generate among the first, most comprehensive and finest quality single cell dissections of the developing human intestinal tract. This fantastic achievement was reported in two high impact first author publications (Elmentaite et al., Dev Cell, 2020, 103 citations; Elmentaite et al., Nature, 2021, 117 citations).

Rasa‘s discoveries have changed our understanding of human gut development, with important clinical implications. She charted enteric progenitors as they colonise intestinal tissues and give rise first to specific subsets of enteric neurons, and later to diverse types of supporting glia. She located expression of genes associated with Hirschsprung’s disease (e.g. RET) to specific neural lineages, providing insights into the disease development at early embryonic stages. This has potential implications for treatment and therapy development.

One of her most impressive achievements was, for the first time, to describe the three key cell types that orchestrate lymph node and gut-associated lymphoid tissue formation in human development. This cell circuitry in second trimester human development consists of “lymphoid tissue initiator” and “organizer” cells of lymphoid, mesenchymal and endothelial origin, which signal to recruit other immune cells to orchestrate aggregation at specific gut sites. She revealed a re-initiation of this cellular program during inflammation in paediatric Crohn’s disease, to recruit and retain immune cells to the site of damage. Rasa’s discovery that developmental programmes are adopted in inflammatory bowel disease is one with wide impact for all inflammatory conditions, with potential to inform the design of next generation cell-centred therapeutics.

Rasa’s highly collaborative spirit led to valuable contributions to twelve research projects in human single cell and developmental biology. These include a comparison of cell identity in vivo versus in vitro in intestinal organoids (Beumer et al., Cell, 2020), a collaboration on the developmental origins of neuroblastoma cancers (Kildisciute et al., Science Advances, 2021), and two papers mapping the immune system across organs in development and adult stages (Dominguez-Conde, Xu et al. Science 2022; Suo, Dann, et al. Science 2022). She also led a major effort in reviewing cell lineages that are common across tissues for a review invitation in Nature Reviews Genetics (Elmentaite et al., 2022). This impressive output demonstrates Rasa’s general intellectual curiosity and ability to look beyond her own research programme to wider issues in developmental biology.

As described above, Rasa’s list of achievements during her PhD is nothing short of spectacular and has transformed our understanding of gut development and disease. She is a most worthy winner of the Beddington Medal.

  • Sarah Teichmann

Selected papers:

Elmentaite R, et. al. (2020). Single-Cell Sequencing of Developing Human Gut Reveals Transcriptional Links to Childhood Crohn’s Disease. 10.1016/j.devcel.2020.11.010.

Elmentaite R, et.al. (2021). Cells of the human intestinal tract mapped across space and time. 10.1038/s41586-021-03852-1.

2022 BSDB Cheryll Tickle Medal Winner: Madeline Lancaster

In 2016, the BSDB introduced the Cheryll Tickle Medal, which is being awarded annually to a mid-career, female scientist for her outstanding achievements in the field of Developmental Biology. The BSDB is proud to announce the 2023 awardee as Dr.  Madeline Lancaster!


Madeline is a most worthy recipient of the Tickle Medal. Madeline started her independent laboratory in 2015 at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (University of Cambridge) following landmark and courageous work developing organoids for the most complex and inaccessible of organs – the human brain. To do so, Madeline, looked to Developmental Biology to rationally decide upon conditions that might guide cellular self-organisation into variations of this organ, or regions or aspects of it (e.g., mimicking different axial levels and stages, more recently capable of secreting cerebrospinal fluid). Although there is not an embryo in sight, Madeline’s work has provided unprecedented functional access to models and perturbations relevant to understanding human brain development. It has also allowed probing of likely mechanisms of brain evolution and indeed its marriage with development, in the field of “evo-devo”. Finally, it has allowed investigation of intersections between development and human disease. Under her guidance, iterations of healthy and disease modelling brain organoids are contributing a wealth of what we could call equally “cellular synthetic biology” or “engineered developmental biology”. We are learning what it takes – at the molecular, cell biological, and supra-cellular levels – to coax cells into building particular fate and morphological ensembles that recapitulate important aspects of brain development.

In all, Madeline’s work speaks broadly not only to stem and developmental biologists, it illustrates the power of developmental biology to impact questions society at large cares deeply about such as what makes us (a healthy) human. Given the interest Madeline’s work has sparked, many developmental biologists are interested in adopting her models and her insight. Madeline is always happy to get people to visit to learn her protocols, welcoming interactions and collaborations. Finally, she has been very supportive of the first postdoc currently “flying the nest” towards an independent academic post.

  • Rita Sousa-Nunes
  • Jeremy Green

Selected papers:

Benito-Kwiecinski S, Giandomenico SL, Sutcliffe M, Riis ES, Freire-Pritchett P, Kelava I, Wunderlich S, Martin U, Wray GA, McDole K, Lancaster MA. (2021)
An early cell shape transition drives evolutionary expansion of the human forebrain.

Pellegrini L, Bonfio C, Chadwick J, Begum F, Skehel M, Lancaster MA. (2020)
Human CNS barrier-forming organoids with cerebrospinal fluid production.

Giandomenico SL, Mierau SB, Gibbons GM, Wenger LMD, Masullo L, Sit T, Sutcliffe M, Boulanger J, Tripodi M, Derivery E, Paulsen O, Lakatos A, Lancaster MA. (2019)
Cerebral organoids at the air-liquid interface generate diverse nerve tracts with functional output.

Lancaster MA, Corsini NS, Wolfinger S, Gustafson EH, Phillips AW, Burkard TR, Otani T, Livesey FJ, Knoblich JA. (2017)
Guided self-organization and cortical plate formation in human brain organoids.

Lancaster, M.A., Renner, M., Martin, C.A., Wenzel, D., Bicknell, L.S., Hurles, M.E., Homfray, T., Penninger, J.M., Jackson, A.P. and Knoblich, J.A. (2013)
Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly.

Join us for the premiere of the BSDB film!

We are delighted to announce that at the European Developmental Biology Congress in September 2023, we will be premiering a short film celebrating the diverse achievements and contributions of the UK developmental biology community. Please join us!

As a teaser, here are a few photographs from the filming.


We would also like to invite our community members to send us short videos to highlight your own work.

We suggest the following themes:

– What is your developmental question

– Why are you a developmental biologist

– Why developmental biology is cool

– ….or anything else to do with development!

The format and content of these are flexible, but they should be 10-30 seconds in length. We will feature these on our website and social media. Please email your videos to comms@bsdb.org