Professorship of Genome Biology, ETH Zurich

Clinicians’ approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are beginning to experience a shift from evidence-based medicine to personalized medicine. We now can perform genetic tests in order to determine if a person is susceptible to developing a particular disease as well as what response a person might have to a certain treatment. This rapidly growing field has the potential to greatly increase the chances of successful treatment by tailoring therapy to individual molecular and genetic profiles.

To promote the advancement of personalized medicine, Switzerland has launched the Swiss Personalized Health Network, a national research initiative to establish high-tech infrastructure for personalized medicine and to create stronger ties between hospitals and universities. ETH Zürich, a leading Swiss science and technology university, is participating in the effort to establish and advance the field of personalized health and technology through a new Professorship of Genome Biology within its Department of Biology.

The professorship is funded by NOMIS in cooperation with the Lotte und Adolf Hotz-Sprenger Stiftung. The key objective is to study the functional elements encoded in complex genomes through comparative analysis, seeking to deepen our understanding of how the genetic variation in the human population is related to disease susceptibility. This includes research on the distinctive cellular signatures of diseases (e.g., cancer) and on respective responses to drugs, as well as research on the mutations underlying cancer.

Against this background, the new professorship will develop an independent program in the area of human/mammalian genomics. In addition, it will develop and apply tools and data to pioneer new ways of understanding the genomic basis of quantitative traits, interaction networks and disease.

NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory, UZH

Neuroeconomics is a new academic field emerging from the intersection of neuroscience, psychology and economics. The goal of this discipline is to provide a foundation for the study of underlying neural processes of decision-making within today’s economic environment.

Essential to the further progress of this field is the construction of empirically informed, testable models that connect the level of neural and mental processes underlying decision-making with the descriptive models of choice that characterize modern economics. By linking the fields of neuroscience and the economics of individual decision-making and building a theoretical bridge, neuroeconomics can realize its full potential, contributing to a microfoundation of behavior from a neural and mental processes perspective.

The Department of Economics at the University of Zurich (UZH) — one of the leading economics departments in Europe — hosts several professorships dedicated to the empirical study of the neural underpinnings of human behavior. However, although the bridge-building capacity of neuroeconomic theory is of great importance for the advancement of the field of neuroeconomics, it is largely missing from current research. The Department of Economics at UZH and the NOMIS Foundation have thus entered a long-term partnership through the establishment of the NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory.

The synergistic interaction between neuroscientists, psychologists and economists at the Department of Economics at UZH provides an excellent interdisciplinary environment in which the new professorship can draw on collaborative expertise from all involved disciplines to develop viable models with significant impact on the field. It is this highly innovative approach and collaborative culture that aligns perfectly with NOMIS’s values and that forms an ideal foundation for a successful, long-standing partnership.

Nature Communications: “Cardiac afferent activity modulates the expression of racial stereotypes”

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award winner Manos Tsakiris and his team of scientists have published the results of their research examining the connection between racial stereotypes and heartbeat in the journal Nature Communications.

By tapping into the phasic activation of arterial baroreceptors, known to be associated with changes in the neural processing of fearful stimuli, the team demonstrated activation of race-threat stereotypes synchronized with the cardiovascular cycle. In other words, our heartbeat can increase pre-existing racial biases when we face a potential threat.

Participants in the study were likely to misperceive a situation involving a black person as life-threatening, when experienced during cardiac systole rather than cardiac diastole. The heart’s firing of signals to the brain during cardiac systole, in combination with the concurrent presentation of a potential threat, increases the chances that even a non-threat will be perceived as threatening. This finding could provide valuable insight into understanding racially biased behavior, such as the high incidence of shootings of unarmed black people in the United States.

The research was conducted by scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, working with Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and was enabled by the European Research Council and the NOMIS Foundation. More information can be found in the Royal Holloway press release.

University of Zurich joins Open Library of Humanities’ Library Partnership Subsidy system

The University of Zurich (UZH), a NOMIS partner and one of the leading research universities in Europe, has joined the Open Library of Humanities’ (OLH) Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS) system. OLH is a charitable organization dedicated to publishing open-access scholarship with no author-facing article-processing charges. OLH is funded by an international consortium of libraries whose mission is to make scholarly publishing fairer, more accessible and rigorously preserved for the digital future.

In 2017 the Department of Economics at UZH and the NOMIS Foundation established a partnership in the form of the NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory.

Tages-Anzeiger: “The rejuvenation researcher”

The Swiss newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger, has published an article about the work of NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award winner Tony Wyss-Coray. The article, published in German (“Der Verjüngungsforscher”), discusses Wyss-Coray’s findings that suggest the plasma in our blood directly influences aging. His most recent studies have shown that circulatory factors can modulate neurogenesis, neuroimmunity and cognitive function in mice and that blood-derived factors from young mice or humans can rejuvenate the aging mouse brain.

NOMIS is supporting Wyss-Coray’s continued research into identifying the circulatory factors that influence aging and using those factors to rejuvenate the aging or degenerated brain.

NZZ: “Self-perception: The ‘I’ in a world of images”

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), based in Zurich, Switzerland, has published an article about the work of NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award winner Manos Tsakiris, who is leading and developing the Body and Image in Arts and Sciences (BIAS) project at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The article, published in German (“Selbstwahrnehmung: Das ‘Ich’ in einer Welt aus Bildern”), highlights Tsakiris’ efforts to better understand how the barrage of images in today’s world influence the experience of embodiment and self-identity.

The BIAS project is enabled by the NOMIS Foundation.