Manos Tsakiris, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2016

Manos Tsakiris has been named the first recipient of the NOMIS Distinguished Scientists and Scholars Award. As part of the award and in line with the interdisciplinary vision of the NOMIS Foundation, Tsakiris will lead and develop the Body and Image in Arts and Sciences (BIAS) project at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The Warburg Institute is a world-famous institution for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture, renowned for its cross-disciplinary approach and global reach. The BIAS project aims to address timely research questions at the intersection of the sciences and humanities with a particular focus on the biological mechanisms and cultural factors that shape our relationships to other people in a culture powered by images. In line with Warburg Director David Freedberg’s commitment to building bridges across the boundaries between the humanities, arts and sciences, BIAS seeks to engage with epistemological differences in order to forge new and innovative synergies across the disciplines.

These goals will be addressed through a range of research activities, including basic research, seminars and workshops, and will involve a network of international partners in the humanities, psychological sciences and neuroscience. To develop and implement BIAS, Tsakiris is assembling a research team and establishing a neuroscience lab at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study. In bringing together a unique range of methodological techniques and procedures, he and his team will contribute – with support from NOMIS – to a new and unprecedented expansion of the Warburg Institute founder Aby Warburg’s vision of a deeper knowledge of the role of biology in the understanding of culture and cultural history.

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Manos Tsakiris studied psychology (Panteion University, Athens) and philosophy (King’s College, London) before completing his PhD (2006) in psychology and cognitive neurosciences at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL. In 2007 he joined the Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is currently professor of psychology. His research is highly interdisciplinary and uses a wide range of methods to investigate the neurocognitive mechanisms that shape the experience of embodiment and self-identity. He is the recipient of the 2014 Young Mind and Brain Prize and of the 22nd Experimental Psychology Society Prize.

Tsakiris has published widely in multidisciplinary and neuroscientific journals. His research has attracted much interest from the scientific community and from media around the world, appearing in major international news channels such as Reuters, BBC, The Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Figaro, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Scientific American.

Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration

The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen, DZNE) is committed to understanding commonalities and differences between various brain diseases in order to develop new preventive and therapeutic approaches. The Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration – from the Basic Mechanism and Target Identification to Translational and Clinical Approaches project is based on a new, cross-cutting approach: clinical and basic research are done at the same time, which allows their results to be directly fed into each other’s processes. NOMIS is supporting this innovative framework by matching DZNE funding for the clinical research with funding for the basic research component; this will focus on identifying therapeutic targets and understanding their physiological function, as well as finding the mechanism through which mutant genes cause the disease. The Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration project comprises the search for biomarkers as well as screening for disease-modulating compounds.

The project is being led by Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera at the Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen and its planned duration is five years.

Determining Biological Age in Humans

Researchers at the Salk Institute have taken on the challenge of developing a scientific method that shows to what extent molecular events determine the rate of aging in humans, which differs significantly from individual to individual. This explains why a person’s chronological age is not the most useful predictor of health. Recent analyses based on morphological and physiological data have shown that “true” biological age can vary greatly between people of the same chronological age. However, none of these measurements explain why individuals age at a varied pace, nor do they provide insights into the underlying causes of aging.

NOMIS is funding the initiative to develop an innovative scientific method that determines biological age based on molecular and cellular criteria, and which allows the study of the aging process in living cells in adults across different age groups. Such information could be used to devise personalized strategies (e.g., preventive interventions or changes in diet or exercise) to optimize organ performance in adults and to minimize age-related physiological decline.

The Determining Biological Age in Humans project is being led by Prof. Martin Hetzer at the Salk Institute.

NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to basic research in the biological sciences – and is one of the foremost institutions of its kind in the world. Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccines, established the Institute in 1965 supported by a land grant from the city of San Diego and with financial support from the March of Dimes Foundation. Sharing the NOMIS Foundation’s focus on supporting basic scientific research and up-and-coming researchers, the Salk Institute’s scientists are not only contributing to our understanding of cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases, Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases and processes, but are also actively mentoring the next generation of researchers and scientists. Their practice of making research results widely available and of focusing on the public good makes the Salk Institute a perfect example of the kind of collaboration the NOMIS Foundation is actively pursuing and cultivating around the world.

NOMIS funded a new laboratory at the Salk Institute, the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, which focuses on gaining new insight into autoimmune diseases, and human metabolism and its dysfunctions. The NOMIS laboratory is staffed by highly respected researchers, including Janelle Ayres, Ye Zheng, Björn Lillemeier and Greg Lemke.

In 2018, Susan Kaech joined the Salk Institute as NOMIS Foundation Chair and director of the NOMIS center. Kaech studies how immune cells — called T cells — remember infectious agents our bodies have previously encountered in order to mount a more rapid response the next time we’re exposed to them. Kaech received her PhD from Stanford University, CA, United States, and her BS from the University of Washington in Seattle. Prior to her appointment at Salk, she was the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University in New Haven, CT, United States.

“The research that people are doing at Salk is spectacular — really cutting-edge — and the tools that the labs are using to answer questions are very powerful and exciting,” Kaech told Salk. “I hope that being at Salk will push me to think about problems in a different manner or with different technologies that may ultimately lead to new understandings or new ways of thinking about the function of our immune system.”

More about the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis

Take a look at the NOMIS Center feature in the fall 2018 edition of inside Salk: “The immune system: A question of balance.”

Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative

The leading research center in the Banner Health Group, the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, specializes in research on the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Due to our aging population, this currently incurable disease has become one of our most prevalent global health problems. While also providing support for Alzheimer patients and their families, the institute’s primary focus is on developing preventive measures against the disease. The co-directors of the Banner Institute, Dr. Eric Reiman and Dr. Pierre Tariot, are internationally renowned pioneers in the field of Alzheimer’s research, whose work has been crucial to the discovery of the Alzheimer’s genome. Along with Dr. Jessica Langbaum, they are developing cutting-edge brain-imaging techniques and are at the forefront of research exploring new ways to prevent and treat this disease.

As part of a wider focus on the field of aging and age-related diseases, NOMIS is supporting the Banner Institute’s efforts by co-funding the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative to discover and evaluate new preventive therapies, to establish an infrastructure for such research and to make recommendations for clinical trials.

The project is being led by Dr. Eric Reimann at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

Reset Dialogues on Civilizations

Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations (ResetDoC) is an organization based in Rome focusing on cross-cultural and international relations, cultural and religious pluralism, the advancement of human rights and the evolution of democracy in conditions of cultural diversity. The goal of the organization is to promote cross-cultural understanding and cooperation and to counter the opposing trends of racism, ethnic nationalism and religious fanaticism – through research, seminars, conferences and publications. The distinguishing feature of ResetDoC meetings is their ability to bring together prominent senior scholars from widely different cultures and perspectives in an atmosphere of respectful, open dialogue. These meetings provide a unique environment for important thinkers who might have read each other’s works but never had a chance to meet and build real relationships away from press and politics and other local pressures.

Believing that the respectful back-and-forth of real conversation is a powerful source of understanding and new insights, the NOMIS Foundation provides funding for a number of ResetDoC’s activities, including: the Istanbul Seminars, an international forum on political theory, which has been creating bridges of dialogue between East and West since 2008; and the Venice-Delhi Seminars, which explore the relationship between democracy and pluralism. NOMIS also supports research projects focusing on democracies that have been experiencing ethno-religious tension and conflict since 2010 and several other research projects that explore topics such as evolving democracies, religion and violence, and migration.

The ResetDoC Scientific Committee is chaired by Prof. Seyla Benhabib