University of Würzburg Graduate Schools

    Winner of 3MT contest 2023 - Human motoneurons and muscle cells in a dish


    Wrapping up the story and results of her thesis project in 3 min, Bita Massih came in as the winner of this year's local 3MT contest.

    Bita Massih, doctoral researcher at the Department of Clinical Neurobiology, was placed first by the jury consisting of the JMU Vice President Innovation and Knowledge Transfer, the Director of the JMU Press and Public Relations Office, and the Managing Director of the Graduate School of Life Sciences, Prof. Matthias Bode, Dr. Esther Knemeyer, and Dr. Irina Pleines, respectively. Her presentation is now nominated for the European level contest organized by the Coimbra Group.

    Ms Massih also got the acclaim of the general audience at the event, winning the "People's Choice" award in addition. Ms Massih talked about a cell culture system she developed, in which she managed to co-culture human motoneurons along with muscle cells, both derived from somatic stem cells. The cells form a functional unit in which the neurons can activate the muscle cells. Even more, she managed to do so with neurons from patients suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), establishing the first human ALS model system. She hopes that her system will help to better understand the pathophysiology of ALS and serve as a testbed for the development of new drugs against ALS.

    Ms Sanjana Mathew-Schmitt from the Institute of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine came in second with her project to establish a functional blood-brain barrier in vitro, followed by Ms Yuanjie Wei from Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection research (HIRI) on third place. Ms Wei uses data science tools to investigate the interaction of RNA viruses with their host cells.

    Doctoral researchers approaching their final year watch out: The next round of the contest will be announced in autumn 2023. Candidates from the Humanities and the Social Sciences are particularly encouraged to participate.