Dr. Cecilia Moens elected inaugural member of the Society for Developmental Biology Academy

Developmental biologist studies nerve growth in the early brain
Dr. Cecilia Moens
Developmental biologist Dr. Cecilia Moens' election to the Society for Developmental Biology Academy recognizes her scientific and professional achievements. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center developmental biologist Cecilia Moens, PhD, joins nine other scientists elected to the newly created Society for Developmental Biology Academy. The researchers’ elections celebrate their achievements as long-standing SDB members. Moens has been a member for thirty years, where she has served on the society’s board of directors and organized regional meetings. Moens and other inaugural members of the SDB Academy, created in 2023, combine established scientific merit with excellence in professional activities including research, teaching and training.

“I’m thrilled to have been selected by the SDB Board for this recognition,” Moens said. “It is a particular honor because I consider the SDB to be my ‘scientific home' and my closest scientific peers are among its membership.”

As an SDB Academy member, Moens will serve as an ambassador for the society. She and other academy members will further the mission to foster, support, and provide a forum for all investigators studying developmental biology while educating the public and policymakers.

Revealing how the early brain develops

Moens’ selection recognizes her years of service to the society and her many contributions to our understanding of developmental biology. Moens, a researcher in Fred Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, uses zebrafish as a model to study the genes that control the brain’s early development.

“The brain receives sensory information from the environment and from inside the body and generates appropriate motor and visceral behaviors in response,” she said. “We’re working to discover how the neural circuits that govern these responses are built and refined during embryo development, insights that will shed light on how the brain works at its most fundamental level.”

Moens has made abundant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the brain is patterned early in development, and how cells with different identities sort out from one another to establish brain boundaries. Moens’s current research focuses on how immature neurons make their connections to muscles and other neurons in the process of building functional circuits. Her lab has discovered how a vitamin A derivative orchestrates how the vagus nerve connects accurately to its many different targets, and how it re-connects to those targets after nerve damage.

The implications for Moens’s work extend beyond the brain. The processes that underlie brain development are shared with other developing organs and, when unintentionally awakened in mature tissues, can promote cancer. Understanding these processes can shed light on what goes awry in cancer as well as developmental disorders such as spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord does not properly form.


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