Award for Life Sciences

For outstanding scientific achievements applying microscopy in the field of cell biology.

Winners receive complimentary registration to a relevant RMS meeting where they will be presented with their award. They may be invited to produce an article for infocus magazine

2025 Winner

Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan.jpg

Dr Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia

Vaishnavi has made a number of remarkable contributions to the field of Cell Biology, harnessing wide-ranging microscopy techniques and modalities.
She currently holds a nine-year EMBL Australia Group Leader fellowship and leads a large research group at UNSW.
As a leader in the research fields of motor proteins and their regulation, the roles of the cytoskeleton in organelle remodelling and organisation, and cellular decision making, Vaishnavi has been one of the true pioneers in quantitative single molecule microscopy to understand the biophysical principles of these processes.
Her research exemplifies the power of microscopy in solving some of the fundamental questions in cell biology. It has consistently featured novel imaging methods such as live-cell single-molecule imaging, and technologies like optogenetics, microfluidics, and micropatterning.
Vaishnavi is a passionate educator and mentor, to-date supervising three Postdoctoral Fellows, seven PhD students, seven MSc students, and 13 undergraduate/Honours students through to completion. She is also a true champion of equity and inclusion, having organised a number of research-specific as well as inclusion-focused events, and is co-founder of BiasWatchIndia, an initiative to document women’s representation in Indian scientific conferences.
Key to her success in building a productive team at UNSW is her approach to inclusive leadership that empowers researchers at all levels in her team and allows them to fulfil their potential and career goals. Her team has published six ground-breaking research papers, four invited review papers and two perspective/comment articles. In recognition of her achievements at UNSW, Vaishnavi was awarded the Researcher of the Year award in the School of Biomedical Sciences in 2023.


  • All awards are open to applicants worldwide.
  • The award will normally be made to nominees who have engaged in independent research for less than 10 years. 

How to submit a nomination:

  • Applicants may self-nominate or be nominated by a colleague or collaborator.
  • Applications and nominations should be submitted to Jade Sturdy.
  • Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae and a letter stating which section award they wish to be considered for.
  • Nominators should submit a curriculum vitae for the nominated candidate and a statement (maximum length 1 page) outlining the merits of the candidate and their suitability for the specific award (please note - if you wish to nominate someone without notifying them of the nomination, a shorter CV i.e. a bio from LinkedIn will be accepted).  
  • Nominated candidates will be contacted after the closing date to confirm that they are happy for their nomination to be considered.
  • In each case the relevant science section will consider applications.

Previous Winners 

2023 - Dr Anjali Kusumbe 2023 - Dr Anjali Kusumbe

Dr Anjali Kusumbe is MRC Career Development Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK.

She is an outstanding, internationally recognised scientist. Since establishing her independent group with an MRC Career development fellowship and an ERC starting grant at the University of Oxford, she has employed state-of-the-art imaging methods to understand age-related changes in multiple organs.

Her cutting-edge tissue imaging approaches have provided novel insights into the vascular regulation of tissue ageing. Anjali has been proactive in sharing her protocols and imaging tools with the scientific community and has also made 3D tissue maps publicly available through freely accessible open resource databases.

As the Scientific Lead for the Wolfson Imaging Centre in Oxford, Anjali has been instrumental in setting up light-sheet imaging, and has also developed new, ultrafast methods for whole-organ imaging and clearing bones.

Her works have gained wide recognition in the field, as evidenced by their extensive citations and the steady stream of invitations which she receives to speak at prestigious scientific conferences.

She has supervised and mentored students and postdoctoral trainees, and is also active in scientific outreach, participating in science festivals and attracting women to STEM subjects.

Anjali's achievements in applying microscopy to life sciences are outstanding. Through her publications, mentorship and scientific citizenship, she has made an enormous contribution to the scientific community.

2021 - Dr Yanlan Mao 2021 - Dr Yanlan Mao

The award recognises Dr Mao’s important contribution to our understanding of how cells and tissues are shaped and organised during the developmental process.

Since establishing her research team at University College London (UCL) five years ago, Dr Mao’s work has employed the use of advanced microscopy and biophysical methods to elucidate the role of mechanical forces in controlling tissue growth and regeneration - as well as defining how these forces influence gene expression and signalling pathways.

Her pioneering use of imaging, coupled with analysis of mechanics, has provided new insight into the physical and mechanical properties of cells and tissues, and how this contributes to organ formation and shape in living organisms.

Chair of the RMS Life Sciences Section, Dr Theresa Ward said: said: “Dr Mao is an extremely worthy recipient of our Life Sciences medal and my warmest congratulations go to her. Her innovative approaches combine elegant microscopy with probing of the biophysical environment, and she has yielded new insights which have had an impact across a range of different research fields.”

2019 - Dr Cristina Lo Celso 2019 - Dr Cristina Lo Celso

Cristina Lo Celso has made paradigm-shifting contributions to the understanding of the dynamic cellular processes regulating haematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow through the pioneering use of intravital microscopy. Cristina has demonstrated the rare ability to successfully tackle widely recognised technical challenges to advance the field of stem cell biology using advanced microscopy as well as novel image analysis and mathematical modelling.

Cristina is an outstanding scientist, her work is published in high-impact journals and highly cited (43 publications, h index 23, overall over 1400 citations – Scopus source), she is internationally recognized as demonstrated by the steady stream of invitations to speak at prestigious institutions (Yale, Harvard, EMBL as examples) and scientific conferences, and has been awarded the 2017 Foulkes Foundation Medal in recognition of her outstanding achievements in biomedical research.

Cristina investigates fundamental questions in stem cell biology, how a tissue regenerates over time and maintains organ functionality throughout a life-time, and has been focusing on the haematopoietic system as her experimental model. Traditional immunohistochemistry cannot reveal the dynamics of the blood stem cells and their interaction with stem cell niches, and these cells are inaccessible to direct observation because they reside in the bone marrow, deeply encased by bone. While working at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Cristina overcame this challenge using a combination of confocal and two photon intravital microscopy of living mouse skull bone marrow and could visualize for the first time highly dynamic blood stem cell behaviours (Lo Celso et al., Nature 2009).

After starting her independent research group at Imperial College London in late 2009, she continued this approach and was instrumental in setting up intravital microscopy in the FILM imaging facility. Since then she has achieved a number of ground breaking discoveries, from uncovering changes in the behaviour of blood stem cells during steady state versus in response to natural infections (Rashidi et al., Blood 2014), to achieving systematic quantification of stem cell localization relative to other bone marrow components (Khorshed et al., Stem Cell Reports 2015). Most recently she has found the unexpected migratory and environment-agnostic behaviour of leukaemia cells throughout disease development. This work shows early bone marrow infiltration of leukaemia cells in response to chemotherapy and their ability to rapidly destroy the niches that would normally support healthy blood production (Hawkins et al., Nature 2016). Cristina adapted the imaging protocol to follow the same bone marrow areas over multiple days using implanted imaging windows. This work has deep implications for future development of improved leukaemia treatments, as Cristina has also shown that her discoveries using murine models hold true for human disease.

Cristina has supervised and mentored 9 PhD students (6 ongoing) and 8 postdoctoral trainees (1 ongoing) one of whom is currently an independent group leader at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, Australia. She is very active in scientific outreach giving media interviews, participating in science festivals and attracting women to STEM subjects. Cristina’s achievements in applying microscopy to live science as demonstrated by publications, mentorship and scientific citizenship is outstanding. 

2015 - Dr John Briggs

Dr Briggs is an excellent ambassador for the power of microscopy in modern life sciences research, with his work spanning both fields of virus particle structure and vesicle trafficking. He has made significant technical developments which have facilitated techniques such as time resolved electron tomography of clathrin coated vesicle formation, this along with other work of Dr Briggs have led to significant changes in the understanding of these pathways. 

Dr Briggs has capitalized on his position as a group leader at the EMBL in Heidelberg to produce work of the highest quality. His contributions have been highly significant in both virology and membrane trafficking, giving new insight through quite exceptional high resolution imaging.

Dr Briggs continues to work at the forefront of his field and is held in high regard by many of his peers and international leaders in these fields.

2014 - Professor Maddy Parsons 2014 - Professor Maddy Parsons

Professor Maddy Parsons rapidly became the leading expert in the UK, and one of the top researchers in the world, in applying fluorescence life-time imaging (FLIM) to analyse Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) in the cell biology field. She specialised in using FLIM/FRET to analyse the dynamics of protein-protein interactions in cells by high resolution light microscopy. She has improved the FLIM/FRET technique, increasing resolution in cultured cells and using it in whole tissues from animals (e.g. with Roberto Mayor and Francois Guillemot). Many laboratories in the UK, Europe and the USA have benefited from her expertise as well as her willingness to collaborate. Maddy always becomes an integral part of collaborations involving FLIM/FRET, using her extensive understanding of the project as well as the method to design experiments optimally.

Maddy has an impressive array of publications using FLIM/FRET, among other cell biological and biochemical techniques, as first author in high-level journals. She started her own research group as a Royal Society Fellow in 2005. In her own laboratory, she has specialized in studying the cell biology of cell-extracellular matrix and cell-cell adhesion dynamics. She uses a wide array of microscopy techniques in addition to FLIM/FRET, including tracking cell migration in 2D and 3D, live imaging of protein dynamics in cells using FRAP and phootactivation. She has an impressive list of publications as senior author, including publications in EMBO J and Oncogene, and has also been commissioned to write reviews and methods chapters. She co-edited a ‘Methods in Molecular Biology’ volume on Cell Migration Methods.

Maddy is always on top of the latest light microscopy techniques, fluorophores, and fluorophores, and is widely sought after for her expertise in the microscopy field.

2012 - Dr Kurt Anderson 2012 - Dr Kurt Anderson

Dr Kurt Anderson has been an independent group leader at the Beaton Institute since 2005, during which time he established a world‐class imaging facility, developed a successful independent research programme exploring tumor cell migration and participated in extensive collaborations that have allowed numerous different research groups to access his state of the art microscopy.

In 2001 he was invited to set up the Light Microscopy Facility in the new Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. There, he built from scratch a world-class imaging facility comprising multiple confocals, spinning disk, wide-field, TIRF, and multi-photon imaging systems. As facility leader he assisted research groups in the use of advanced fluorescence imaging and analysis. In collaboration with Gunter Gerisch he published several innovative TIRF studies on the dynamics of cortical actin in Dictyostelium and a novel TIRF study on the interaction between actin filaments and the plasma membrane at the leading edge.

On the basis of his impressive achievements in Dresden, we recruited Kurt to the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research (BICR) in May of 2005. I had become Director of the BICR in 2003 and refocused the strategy to concentrate on research aimed at understanding cell movement, migration and metastasis. Kurt was a key appointment; he assumed responsibility for two groups at the BICR: the Beatson Advanced Imaging Resource (BAIR) and his own independent Tumor Cell Migration lab. This joint appointment placed him at the junction between imaging technology and its application to investigate the molecular basis of disease.

Over the past few years Kurt has been responsible for setting up a world-class imaging facility, where he and his team have applied techniques such as photo-activation, FRAP, and SHG analysis of collagen density through many collaborations. He built custom systems for photo-activation in TIRF and spinning-disk FLIM, and published one of the first studies to use FLIM-TIRF. In his role as facility manager he has been active in the UK light microscopy community, sponsoring the 2009 ELMI meeting and engaging with Euro-BioImaging as a PCS site. Our imaging facility has been called the “jewel in the crown” of the BICR by numerous external reviewers, an accolade that reflects Kurt’s commitment and skills.

In his research, Kurt has pioneered the translation of advanced fluorescence techniques from cell culture into mouse models of disease. His lab has shown for the first time that techniques such as FRAP and FLIM-FRET, developed to study cells on coverslips, can be used to study the sub-cellular dynamics of proteins in living mouse tissue. His lab used FRAP to show that eCadherin is mobilized in migrating cells and that both eCadherin and plasma membrane dynamics are dramatically different in vitro and in vivo, especially in response to anti-invasive therapy. More recently, his lab used FLIM- FRET to show polarized activation of Rho at the tips of pancreatic cancer cells in invasive tumors, and that therapeutic intervention selectively abolished activation within the cellular tips without affecting basal Rho activation within the cell body. These studies have established a new paradigm for quantitative, molecular cell biology in vivo and highlight Kurt’s growing reputation as a world leader.

In recognition of his research achievements, Kurt was promoted to Senior Group Leader with tenure at the BICR, and was made Professor of Cell Migration at the University of Glasgow in September of 2011. The success of Kurt’s contribution to cell biology is amply illustrated by the impressive number of papers in the highest impact factor journals that he has contributed to.