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.

2023 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.
10.1016/j.cell.2021.02.050.

Pellegrini L, Bonfio C, Chadwick J, Begum F, Skehel M, Lancaster MA. (2020)
Human CNS barrier-forming organoids with cerebrospinal fluid production.
10.1126/science.aaz5626

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.
10.1038/s41593-019-0350-2

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.
10.1038/nbt.3906

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.
10.1038/nature12517

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

GET TO KNOW THE NEW BSDB COMMITTEE MEMBERS

At the last AGM, held at the 2023  Autumn Meeting in Sheffield, four new BSDB committee members were elected to take term in autumn. They will replace the four leaving members: our Graduate Representative Lara Busby,  Meetings Officer Sally Lowell, Communications Officer Ben Steventon and Tanya Whitfield (see a complete list of committee members here). Read about the new committee members, their careers, research interests and plans for their time on the committee.

 

Tamina Lebek – the new Graduate Representative

I am very excited to join the BSDB committee as the new Postgraduate Representative taking over the great work of Lara Busby.

In 2020, I moved to Edinburgh for my PhD after completing my BSc and MSc in Biology at the TU Dresden in Germany. During my MSc I had the opportunity to do my 7-month research project at the University of Aberdeenwhere I first got to know the UK research community and decided that I want to stay. I am very grateful to now be part of the Wellcome Trust PhD programme in Integrative Cell Mechanisms at the University of Edinburgh working in the labs of Sally Lowell and Alistair Elfick.

In the past, I was part of research projects that focussed on cancer cell physiology and how we can manipulate it. But during the lab rotation at the beginning of my PhD, Mattias Malaguti, who is a postdoc in the Lowell lab, introduced me to mouse embryonic stem cells and showed me how we can use them to model aspects of development. This was so intriguing to me that I chose to do my thesis project in the Lowell lab and continue working with pluripotent cells. Since then, I have developed a keen interest in understanding how cell autonomous effects and collective behaviour come together during development to form a complex organism. To address this question, I am developing a new neighbour labelling system that utilises fluorescent proteins to distinguish cells of interest and their neighbours from every other cell that is not part of the neighbourhood.

Since 2021 I am one of the postgrad student representatives at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and a year ago, I became a co-lead representative for our School of Biological Sciences. I very much enjoy this multifaceted role where I can interact with many different students and support their postgrad studies, organise social events and workshops, and be involved in university politics. I look forward to joining the BSDB committee with the same enthusiasm and hope to strengthen the connection between students and the BSDB. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

 

Veronique Azuara

Véronique is Reader of Stem Cell Biology at Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine, and an Associate Member of the Development and Stem Cell Interest Groupat the Francis Crick Institute.

She is originally from Paris where she obtained her PhD for work on the molecular genetics of lymphocyte development at the Institute Pasteur. She then crossed the channel and joined the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences in the group of Amanda Fisher. Here, she explored as an MRC Postdoctoral Fellow how chromatin ‘shutdown’ contributes to lineage restriction and maintenance of cell fate identity through development. Notably, her work in embryonic stem cells, among others, pioneered the discovery that many inactive developmental regulators carry bivalent chromatin structure being enriched for repressive marks and indicators of active chromatin. This bivalent marking is proposed to prime lineage-specifying genes for future activation yet prevent their premature expression through Polycomb-mediated repression.

In 2006 Véronique started her independent research group at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology of Imperial College London supported by an MRC Collaborative Career Development Award in Stem Cells and a BBSRC New Investigator Award. Her group has since focussed on understanding how cell potency and specification are balanced in stem cells and in the developing mammalian embryo. In the early embryo, this implies unravelling how cell heterogeneity arises, how pluripotency is achieved and safeguarded while promoting the formation of two essential extra-embryonic tissues for embryo survival and patterning. Combining in vivo studies with embryo stem cell models, her group pursues a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to address these questions from transcriptional and epigenetic perspectives. Most recently, the group uncovered a previously unrecognized link between lipid metabolism and the remodelling of the pluripotent embryonic tissue in peri-implantation mouse embryos, with a specific focus on lipid droplet biology.

 Throughout her journey, Véronique developed an active and genuine interest in developing others as a caring group leader, a college-wise champion for early career researchers as well as acting as lead in research culture for her department.

 

Vicki Metzis

Vicki is an Advanced Research Fellow and Wellcome Sir Henry Dale Fellow at Imperial College London.

Vicki completed her PhD in the lab of Carol Wicking at the University of Queensland, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Brisbane, examining the role of Hedgehog signalling in craniofacial morphogenesis.

Vicki then moved to London to undertake postdoctoral training in the lab of James Briscoe at the Francis Crick Institute where she developed expertise in the use of embryonic stem cells as in vitro models of development. Here, she made major contributions to our understanding of how cells adopt a spinal cord identity during development, updating textbook views on nervous system regionalisation. In recognition of this work, she was awarded the Young Embryologist Network medal in 2017.

In 2020, Vicki was awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from Wellcome and The Royal Society and established her lab at Imperial College London. She heads the Development and Transcriptional Control groupat the MRC LMS, based at the Hammersmith Hospital Campus. The group employs experimental and computational approaches to examine the molecular events that impose regional identity in the body plan.

The BSDB annual meeting represents the flagship meeting of developmental and stem cell biologists in the UK and Europe. In joining the committee, Vicki is delighted to play a part in supporting and promoting the outstanding science from across the community, in addition to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.

David Turner

David is a group leader and lecturer in Stem Cell and Developmental Biology in the Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences at the University of Liverpool.

Following on from his BSc in Pharmacology, he was taken on as a PhD student in Prof. Mike White’s lab in 2006 where his interests were kindled regarding the dynamic nature of proteins and cellular heterogeneity. The focus of his PhD was on using time-lapse microscopy to study how NF-κB dynamics can control cell fate. It was here where he learned how using mathematical models iteratively with experimental observations are key approaches in biology.

In 2011, he made the transition to developmental biology, joining Prof. Alfonso Martinez Arias’ group in Cambridge. He used his background in cell dynamics, heterogeneity, and live-cell microscopy to study how mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) choose their fate, focussing on the decision to either remain pluripotent, or choose a primitive streak-like fate. Whilst in Cambridge, his work made the transition from a purely 2D approach to using 3D organoids, which became known as gastruloids, to understand the mechanisms of symmetry-breaking, axial specification, and cell fate during early development. This was continued through his NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship to probe the mechanisms of left-right symmetry breaking.

In 2019 he started his own group in the University of Liverpool where he uses both 2D cell culture and 3D gastruloids, coupled with mathematical modelling, to uncover the mechanisms involved in axial patterning and morphogenesis.

 

BSDB Meetings in 2023

 

European Developmental Biology Congress 2023

Registration Now Open

A distributed meeting across Oxford, Barcelona and Paris

  • Dates: 25th-28th September 2023
  • Primary location: Keble College, Oxford, UK
  • BSDB organisers: Sally Lowell, Paul Martin and Shankar Srinivas
  • Interlinked one day meeting organisers: Sigoléne Meilhac, Nicola Festuccia, Tanya Foley, Tom Cumming & Guillaume Frasca (Paris) and Alejo Rodriguez-Fratelli (Barcelona).

 

Thanks to all who joined us at:

Cell Plasticity in Morphogenesis 

Sheffield, April 17th-19th 2023