In this Winners Session, you will be introduced to the Top 10 breakthroughs in the Life Sciences category. The presented work revolutionises our understanding of the complex human body, revealing that it is now possible to fight brain cancer in new ways, tackle COVID-19, fight different diseases with our very own microbiome, and replace damaged or lost neurons. Leaving the human body, viewers will learn about a breakthrough in bioengineering: With the highly innovative approach that uses the CRISPR/Cas technology for restructuring complete plant chromosomes, we can now rethink agriculture, potentially feeding millions of people in a more sustainable way. Jury Chair Marja Makarow assures: “The innovations are ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting science, opening up totally new avenues.”


We are delighted to announce the ten winners in the category Life Sciences:


Breaking the Wall to Corona Antibodies
Stefan Dübel generates natural human antibodies that completely block COVID-19.


Breaking the Wall of the Gut-Brain Connection in ALS
Eran Elinav focuses on decoding host-microbiome interactions and their effects on health and disease.


Breaking the Wall to Replenish Lost Neurons
Xiang-Dong Fu has developed a new strategy to convert astrocytes into functional neurons, and thereby rebuild lost neural circuits.


Breaking the Wall to Next Generation Biopharmaceuticals
Christian Hackenberger contributes to the development of protein-based therapeutics to target cancer and viral infections.


Breaking the Wall of Brain Cancer
Michelle Monje works at the intersection of neuroscience and brain cancer biology.


Breaking the Wall of Human Neuropsychiatric Disorders
Sergiu Pasca’s team grows human brain organoids and assembloids from stem cells to learn about development and disease mechanisms.


Breaking the Wall to Sustainable Agriculture
Holger Puchta uses CRISPR/Cas technology towards a more sustainable agriculture.


Breaking the Wall of Resistant Bacteria
Stephan Sieber discovers a new type of antibiotic overcoming several previous limitations.


Breaking the Wall of Drug Delivery and Nutrient Absorption
Giovanni Traverso has developed a transformative technology to improve drug delivery and nutrient absorption.


Breaking the Wall of COVID-19 Inhibitors
Haitao Yang has worked to combine structure-assisted drug design and virtual drug screening to help identify new drugs to combat COVID-19.

Stefan Dübel is a German biologist. Since October 2002, he has been a full professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig and head of the biotechnology department at the Institute of Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. His work is centred around protein engineering, phage display and recombinant antibodies.

Eran Elinav is a professor of immunology at Weizmann Institute of Science, and director of the cancer-microbiome division at the German Cancer Research Center. He focuses on decoding host-microbiome interactions and their effects on health and disease, with a goal of personalising medicine and nutrition. Elinav has published more than 200 publications in leading peer-reviewed journals.

Born in Wuhan, China, Fu received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University, before completing postdoctoral training at Harvard. He is currently professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

Christian P. R. Hackenberger studied chemistry at the Universität Freiburg and the UW Madison/Wisconson and performed his doctoral studies at the RTWH Aachen. After a postdoctoral stay at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he founded his own research group at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2005 as an Emmy Noether fellow. In 2012, he became Leibniz-Humboldt Professor for Chemical Biology at the Leibniz-Research Institute for Molecular Pharmacology and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. 

His group develops chemical strategies to functionalize proteins and antibodies using highly selective chemical reactions to generate protein-based therapeutics against cancer, Alzheimer and viral infections. He is a co-founder of the Munich-based company Tubulis, which engineers better tolerable cancer drugs using technologies from his lab. In 2020, Christian was the first recipient of the Falling Walls breakthrough award in the Life Sciences, recognizing his contributions to develop next-generation biopharmaceuticals.

Michelle Monje is an associate professor of neurology at Stanford University. She is a neuroscientist and pediatric neuro-oncologist focused on caring for children and young adults with brain cancer. She received her MD and PhD in neuroscience from Stanford, and trained in neurology at Harvard. Her research program, the Monje Lab, focuses on the intersection of neuroscience and brain cancer biology, seeking to elucidate how brain cancers interact with the normal brain.

Sergiu Pașca is a Romanian-American scientist and physician at Stanford University in California. Pașca is a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, a neuroscientist and stem cell biologist and currently a NYSCF Robertson Investigator. Thus, he is founder of the Pasca Lab Stanford, therefore part of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Stanford Bio-X and a fellow of the ChEM-H Institute at Stanford. Pașca was listed among New York Times Visionaries in Medicine and Sciences, and he is the recipient of the 2018 Vilcek Award for Creative Biomedical Promise from the Vlicek Foundation.

Holger Puchta is chair of plant molecular biology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). After receiving a PhD at the MPI Munich, he showed at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel that molecular scissors can cut DNA in multicellular eukaryotes. As group leader at the Leibnitz Institute for Plant Genetics, Puchta was the first to demonstrate different ways of genome engineering in plants. For his work, he was nominated “Pioneer of Plant Biotechnology” by PBJ and twice received an ERC advanced grant.

Stephan Sieber studied chemistry in Marburg, Germany and Birmingham, England. He did his graduate studies at the University of Marburg and Harvard Medical School. In 2009, he was appointed professor at the Technical University of Munich. Sieber’s research focus is chemical biology, with emphasis on the identification of novel antibiotics active against multiresistant bacteria. .

Giovanni Traverso, MB, BChir, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a Gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His current research program is focused on developing the next generation of drug delivery systems to enable efficient delivery of therapeutics through the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr. Yang received his BS degree from Sichuan University (2001), and his Ph.D. degree from Tsinghua University (2006). Following his postdoctoral research at the Yale University (2006-2011), he was promoted to Associate Research Scientist (2011-2013). He joined Tianjin University in 2013, where he became Full Professor and served as Vice Dean of School of Life Sciences (2013-2017). He is also Research Professor of Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biomedicine (Adjunct) and Director of Infectious Disease Drug Discovery Institute. He joined ShanghaiTech University in Sept. 2018 as PI in Shanghai Institute for Advanced Immunochemical Studies (SIAIS) and Associate Professor of School of Life Science and Technology.

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