The Friedmund Neumann Preis from the Schering Stiftung is awarded to early career scientists with outstanding basic research in human biology, organic chemistry or medicine, who have developed a distinctive scientific profile and made significant impact upon their respective fields. This award is named after Prof. Dr. Friedmund Neumann, in recognition of his pioneering research in modern progestins and his commitment to promoting early-career scientists for their innovation and dynamism in the pursuit of scientific progress.
We are pleased to announce that this year, this prestigious award goes to Helmholtz Pioneer Campus and Computational Health Centre PI Na Cai for her significant contributions towards the fundamental understanding of psychiatric disorders. Na uses computational methods on large-scale genetics data to investigate the nature of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), one of the most common and debilitating diseases in the world. She started her first independent research group at the Pioneer Campus in Helmholtz Munich in 2019. Currently, her group comprises 6 members, each leading their own projects using cutting-edge methods in quantitative genetics, functional genomics and neurobiology to understand the nature of MDD and its molecular underpinnings.
Na’s work gave rise to several important milestones towards quantitative and objective MDD definition, diagnosis and monitoring, including the identification of the first ever genetic associations with MDD (Cai et al., Nature 2015), and the establishment of frameworks and metrics to quantify how disease definitions and data collection strategies affect genetic findings (Cai et al., Nature Genetics 2020, Dahl et al., bioRxiv 2022 – in press at Nature Genetics).
Na’s outstanding work is owed, to a large degree, to her access to large-scale datasets as well as her strong collaborative relationships with colleagues around the world. She is an active contributing member to the MDD and the Cross-Disorder (CDG) Working Groups of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), as well as the newly-funded ExDEP Consortium that aims to leverage electronics health records (EHR) across the US and Europe to investigate the genetic basis of MDD. She is currently working with an international network of collaborators to identify ways to refine research methodology in psychiatric genetics. As a founding member of the German Mental Health Centre (DZPG), she will further contribute to building resources for psychiatric genetics research in Germany.
Through her efforts Na has become a well-recognized expert in her scientific community. She is invited to speak at conferences and institutions both nationally and internationally, to attend symposiums and workshops aimed at identifying future research directions in complex trait genetics, and to chair international conferences such as the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) in Quantitative Genetics and Genomics. Na believes in giving back to the community and is dedicated to mentorship in her own research group and beyond, for example by annually teaching at the Computational Genetics Summer Institute (CGSI) at UCLA.
Na’s exceptional approach to science has been recognized through awards and funding throughout her career, which continues to this day: since she became an independent group leader, her research has raised funding from the BMBF in Germany, the NIH in the US, and most recently the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark.
Congratulations, Na Cai - we are proud to give such an outstanding talent a scientific home at the PioneerCampus@Helmholtz Munich.
The Schering Stiftung promotes the life sciences, the contemporary arts, as well as scientific and cultural education. A key focus of the Foundation’s activities is on projects at the interface of science and art. The Foundation aims to promote the dialogue and exchange between the disciplines. It wants to create a space for new ideas and inject creative ideas into society.