The Executive Council of Basel has awarded the Science Award 2014 to Prof. Silvia Arber. This prize is awarded annually to a researcher or scholar who has excelled through outstanding academic achievements at one of seven faculties of the University of Basel, and is endowed with 20’000 Swiss francs. Basel’s Executive Council honors the 1968-born neurobiologist for her exceptional research contributions on function and development of neuronal circuits controlling movement.
Silvia Arber studied at the Biozentrum in Basel and graduated with a doctorate conducted at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI) in 1995. She then left for four years to work at Columbia University in New York. During this time, Silvia Arber worked on research projects she subsequently pursued independently after returning to the Biozentrum and the FMI in 2000. Since 2008, Silvia Arber is a Full Professor of Neurobiology and Cell Biology at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel and at the FMI.
Silvia Arber investigates the motor system, a sophisticated network of interconnected neurons coordinating motor behavior. The precision of this system can easily be appreciated when looking at the highly complex movement sequences while playing tennis or the piano. The degree of perfection and complexity of these motor patterns become strikingly evident especially when these are impaired. Treatment of motor disorders therefore requires a detailed understanding of how this system functions. Silvia Arber’s research focusses on the interplay between spinal cord, brainstem and muscles. Although these interactions may seem relatively simple at a first sight, their functionality is indeed highly complex. In addition, suitable experimental entry points were not readily available for a long time. This is where Silvia Arber’s research work took off. Her work is characterized by creativity to experimentally reveal the precise pathways communicating between spinal cord, brainstem and muscles and through these entry points to be able to assign particular movement patterns to specific neuronal circuit components.
In January and April 2014, Arber’s latest research findings were published in two of the most prestigious scientific journals. The first study addresses the complex information flow between neurons in the spinal cord and the brainstem, which ensures precise communication between command-giving and command-executing movement centers. The execution of movement is based on continuous internal feedback control of both activating and inhibiting signaling pathways. Arber also demonstrated that the corresponding feedback control is laid down during development. The second study makes headway in our understanding of the special ability of hands in contrast to feet, to be specialized for fine movement control. Like we humans, the mouse also uses its forelimbs, for instance, to grasp and hold food. Silvia Arber’s research group identified neurons in the brainstem that are needed for this finely tuned grasping movement of the forelimbs.
Already early in her career, Silvia Arber was distinguished with numerous awards; the Pfizer Research Prize (1998), National Latsis Prize (2003), Schellenberg Prize (2005) and the Friedrich Miescher Award (2008). This year she was presented with the Otto Naegeli Prize 2014, one of the most prestigious awards in Switzerland for outstanding achievements in biomedical research. Besides her scientific research and publications, Silvia Arber stands out for her commitment to the promotion of young scientists. Her research group shares her enthusiasm. It should also be emphasized that many of Silvia Arber’s pioneering discoveries were generated within her own research group. She motivates and supports her young team of scientists and encourages them to grow beyond their limits. With presenting the Science Award 2014 to Silvia Arber, the City of Basel honors not only an outstanding scientist of the University of Basel and a successful role model for young scientists but also recognizes the importance of the promotion of young scientists for the Basel science hub.
The ceremony of the Basel Science Award 2014 will take place on Tuesday, 28th October 2014, in the Great Council Chamber of the Basel Town Hall.