First Ben Barres Prize awarded at EMBO Microglia

Rosa Paolicelli holds her trophy, a 3D printed microglia. Mariko Bennett and Cornelius Gross stand either side of her
Left to right: Mariko Bennett, Rosa Paolicelli, and Cornelius Gross with the 3D-printed trophy of the Ben Barres prize IMAGE: Photolab/EMBL

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EMBL Group Leader creates Ben Barres Prize to support talented young neuroscientists

The first Ben Barres Prize was presented on the 21st March 2018 to Rosa C. Paolicelli as the best young speaker of the Microglia 2018 EMBO Workshop. It was created by Cornelius Gross, EMBL Group Leader, as a tribute to Ben Barres, who passed away in December 2017, at the peak of a productive and widely acclaimed career as a neuroscientist, mentor, and advocate for gender equality.

Ben Barres was an extraordinary scientist, tenacious and driven by curiosity. In the early 2000s, he blazed the trail for the new field of glial biology by discovering that glial cells play a crucial role in neurodevelopment and the onset of neurodegenerative disorders. At the time, glial cells were considered to only bind neurons together, yet his research showed they had a much wider role. Barres was also an extraordinary advocate for women in science and a mentor for young researchers.

Barres became a faculty member at Stanford University in 1993 as Barbara, and wrote extensively about the changing perceptions he experienced following his transition to Ben in 1997. As Prof Mark Tuszynski from the University of California, San Diego writes, “Ben’s light was not so much extinguished as distributed among dozens, hundreds, or thousands of others. We will continue to see him in his trainees, colleagues, and those who gained the courage to speak out for what was right and true”.

“We wanted to recognise his role as a leading microglia scientist and mentor,” explains Cornelius Gross. “We are very happy that Stanford University and his family have supported this award. We hope Rosa Paolicelli will follow his path and switch on many more lights that will further Ben’s legacy.”

The award was presented by Mariko Bennett, graduate student at Stanford University and one of Ben Barres’s former postdoctoral fellows.