Honoring Aspiring Research: Na Cai Received the Friedmund Neumann Prize 2023
Dr. Na Cai, Principal Investigator at the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus and at the Computational Health Center at Helmholtz Munich, has been honored with this year's Friedmund Neumann Prize awarded by the Schering Foundation. The prize recognizes outstanding basic research in human biology, organic chemistry, or medicine, and supports early career scientists in establishing themselves as independent researchers and in their pursuit of scientific progress. Na Cai uses cutting-edge methods in quantitative genetics, functional genomics and neurobiology to fundamentally understand psychiatric disorders.
Though early in her independent career, Na Cai's work has already made significant contributions to the field of neuropsychiatric conditions. At the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus (HPC), she leads a research group focusing on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), one of the most common and debilitating diseases globally. Her first independent research lab at the Pioneer Campus was established in 2019. She and her team use quantitative genetics and functional genomics together with neurobiology to investigate the nature of MDD and its molecular underpinnings.
Na Cai's work has played a pivotal role in advancing our knowledge of the genetics of MDD. Notably, she achieved groundbreaking accomplishments such as uncovering the first-ever genetic associations with MDD (Cai et al., Nature 2015). Additionally, Na Cai developed frameworks and metrics that enable the quantification of how disease definitions and data collection approaches impact genetic discoveries (Cai et al., Nature Genetics 2020, Dahl et al., bioRxiv 2022 – in press at Nature Genetics).
On top of that Na Cai actively contributes her expertise to the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), serving as an essential member within the MDD and Cross-Disorder (CDG) Working Groups. Moreover, she is a vital participant in the recently funded ExDEP Consortium. This collaborative endeavor is dedicated to harnessing electronic health records (EHR) across both the United States and Europe, with the ultimate goal of investigating the genetic underpinnings of MDD.
Presently, Na Cai is engaged in a global network of collaborators, collectively striving to enhance the research methodologies within psychiatric genetics. As a founding member of the German Mental Health Centre (DZPG), Na Cai is focused to make further contributions to the advancement of resources designed to facilitate psychiatric genetics research within Germany.
Her exceptional achievements have earned her recognition as an international expert, leading to numerous invitations to speak at conferences and institutions worldwide. On top of that, Na Cai’s approach to science has garnered recognition through several other esteemed awards and honors prior to the Friedmund Neumann Prize 2023.
About the prize
the Schering Foundation established the Friedmund Neumann Prize to recognize young scientists for exceptional basic research in human biology, organic chemistry, or medicine. The prize, with a prize money of €10,000, is directed at post-doctoral researchers who have demonstrated a distinctive scientific profile and made significant scientific impact upon their respective fields. Its purpose is to highlight outstanding scientific accomplishments and support the recipients in establishing themselves within their research field.