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Madeline Lancaster and Sonja Vernes win Blavatnik Awards

14.3.2022 | The prizes were given for the development of mini-brains and the investigation of the biological bases of language, respectively.
Two AcademiaNet members have won a prestigious Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in the UK. Madeline Lancaster, famous for her work on brain organoids, takes the top prize of £100,000 and becomes the 2022 Blavatnik Laureate for the Life Sciences. Sonja Vernes, who studies the biological basis of language and speech, receives £30,000 as a Blavatnik Finalist, also in the Life Sciences.

Madeline Lancaster
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Madeline Lancaster

Dr Lancaster is a group leader at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, where she studies the development, evolution and diseases of the human brain. For this purpose, she famously developed the brain organoid, a kind of mini-brain that allows her run complex experiments on brain cells without using animals or human subjects. It is this era-defining work that wins her the prize.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive this recognition,” Dr Lancaster said in a press release. “These past few years have been challenging for myself and my team, so to have all that hard work recognised is a real boost.”

Sonja Vernes
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Sonja Vernes

Dr Vernes is a group leader at both the University of St. Andrews and at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. She is recognised as a Blavatnik Finalist for her ground-breaking work on the biological underpinnings of speech and language. To do this work, she studies bats which can learn new sounds, just like humans when they learn new words. For example, she is interested in the interplay between specific genes and speech disorders.

“It is a great honour to be recognised by the Blavatnik Awards for contributions that would not have been possible without my team and collaborators,” she said to the Blavatnik Awards. “Speech and language are such exceptional traits and to be able to ask complex questions about them in a mammalian brain is so exciting.”

The awards were presented to the awardees in late February. The Blavatnik Award is the largest unrestricted prize for scientists under the age of 42 from UK universities.

  (© Emilie Steinmark / AcademiaNet /

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