Shigeki Watanabe, a postdoctoral fellow in biology, receives two major prizes for neuroscience and cell biology for developing a “flash-and-freeze” method of watching nerve cells in action.

By Lee J. Siegel

Shigeki Watanabe, a postdoctoral fellow in biology, developed a “flash-and-freeze” method of watching nerve cells in action. As a result, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first person to win the two major prizes for neuroscience and cell biology postdocs, according to his professor, Erik Jorgensen.

Last week, Watanabe was named 2015 Grand Prize Winner of the $25,000 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology. Earlier this year, the American Society for Cell Biology named Watanabe recipient of its Bernfield Award. He also garnered a third honor this year – the German Physiological Society’s Emil du Bois-Reymond Prize – and in 2013 won the Society for Neuroscience’s Nemko Prize.

“This is the first time the same person has won the Eppendorf Prize and the Bernfield Award – the two most prestigious awards for postdoctoral researchers in biosciences,” Jorgensen says. “This is a big deal.”

“I feel very honored to win this award,” Watanabe says of his latest prize. “I just never thought I would.”

Watanabe currently is a postdoc at both the U and at Charité University Hospital in Berlin.

His prize-winning research with Jorgensen involved development of a new “flash-and-freeze” method using an electron microscope to watch nerve cells or neurons releasing neurotransmitters, which are chemical signals that carry nerve impulses from one neuron to the next. Watanabe and Jorgensen used the new technique to study how nerve cells rapidly recycle tiny bubbles called vesicles that carry and release the neurotransmitters.

That research was outlined in this 2013 University of Utah news release: archive.unews.utah.edu/news_releases/how-our-nerves-keep-firing/

To win his latest award, Watanabe wrote a 1,000-word technical essay about his research that was published in the Oct. 2 issue of the journal Science, which sponsors the award with Eppendorf AG, a German life science laboratory instruments and services company. A Science news release with details about Watanabe’s “flash-and-freeze” method is at: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-09/aaft-sww092515.php.


Lee Siegel is a senior science writer at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email him at lee.siegel@utah.edu.