Elly Tanaka is a Senior Group Leader at the Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP). Tanaka was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and obtained a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1987 and a PhD from the University of California, San Francisco in 1993, where she had worked in the lab of Marc W. Kirschner. She then became a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Jeremy Brockes at University College London and Ludwig Institute.
Tanaka started her own lab at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden (Germany) in 1999. Her research focused on axolotl spinal cord regeneration.
In 2008, Tanaka became a professor at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) of the Technische Universität Dresden. She became director of the center in 2014, before becoming senior group leader at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna in 2016. The Mexican salamander species axolotl is Tanaka's main model system for her research and she is working to translate her work to mouse and human tissue. Using innovative molecular biology and microscopy methods, she identified those stem cells that underlie the regeneration of limbs and the spinal cord. She is a member of the Editorial Board for Developmental Cell.
Tanaka was elected member of the Academia Europaea in 2015 and of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2017. She was awarded the Ernst Schering Prize in 2017, highlighting her as "the leading expert in the field of regeneration biology". In 2018, she was awarded the Erwin Schrödinger Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences for lifetime achievements. In 2020, she was awarded the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award.