Christian Haass receives world’s top Brain Prize
Copenhagen/London/Munich – March 6th 2018 - Together with three other neuroscientists Professor Christian Haass, speaker of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) Munich site and Professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, receives the world’s most valuable prize for brain research. The 2018 Brain Prize, awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark, is worth one million Euros. Awarded annually, it recognises international scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience. Besides Haass the 2018 Brain Prize goes to Bart De Strooper (London and Leuven), Michel Goedert (Cambridge) and John Hardy (London) for their groundbreaking research on the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease.
The chairman of the Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize selection committee, Professor Anders Bjorklund, said: "Alzheimer´s disease is one of the most devastating diseases of our time and remarkable progress has been made during the last decades. These four outstanding European scientists have been rewarded for their fundamental discoveries unravelling molecular and genetic causes of the disease that have provided a basis for the current attempts to diagnose, treat and possibly even prevent neurodegenerative brain diseases. The award recognizes that there is more to Alzheimer´s disease than amyloid, and that the field of dementia research is more than Alzheimer´s disease alone."
"The Brain Prize is an ambassador for science and puts a spotlight on great discoveries," Haass said. "We are facing a time when more and more people don’t believe in science anymore. Science is not always right, but it is the only way to find the truth and for humans to progress." When Haass started to work on Alzheimer's in 1990, very little was known about the cellular mechanisms involved in this disease. He focused on the generation and metabolism of amyloid, the major component of the disease that signifies plaques.
His research into Alzheimer’s has concentrated on the cascade of events starting with amyloid and progressing through the development of plaques and tangles that eventually kill brain cells and destroy memory. Haass hypothesized that amyloid production may be normal and not necessarily part of a pathological process, which at the time was the widely accepted general opinion in the field. This pivotal finding was highly significant and has since led to the development of therapeutic approaches to lower amyloid production in patients. Working with John Hardy, Professor Haass has demonstrated how amyloid is generated and how genetic mutations seen in families with very aggressive and rare forms of Alzheimer’s affect its production.
Most recently, Professor Haass generated mouse models to investigate inflammation in neurodegenerative disorders, which according to his findings may at least initially play a protective role. He found that genetic mutations alter the function of special immune cells called microglia in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This has stimulated a completely new approach to designing possible new therapies by modulating the activity of microglia.
Around 10 million people in Europe have Alzheimer’s disease. This and other neurodegenerative diseases of the ageing brain cause a great deal of suffering for patients and their families and are a huge challenge for society. It is among the hardest diseases to get a grip on despite dramatic progress over the last decades. The research pioneered by these four European scientists has revolutionised our understanding of the changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer´s disease and related types of dementias.
Background to the other laureates:
Geneticist Professor John Hardy is Chair of Molecular Biology of Neurological Disease at the Institute of Neurology, University College London. After finding mutations in the gene for the protein amyloid in a family with early onset disease he proposed a ground-breaking "amyloid hypothesis" for Alzheimer’s disease suggesting that disease was initiated by the build-up of this protein in the brain. The disease progresses when there is an imbalance in the production and the clearance of amyloid. His discoveries of genetic mutations have had a dramatic impact on understanding not only Alzheimer’s disease but more recently in other neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s. For his work, Hardy already received the Hartwig Piepenbrock-DZNE Prize in 2015. "Collaborating with clinicians, geneticists and cell biologists is work in progress. Although we have not found a successful treatment yet, I believe we are on the way towards rational, mechanism-based treatments," said Professor Hardy. "In the early 1980s, research into Alzheimer’s disease was a real backwater. The first conference only attracted 40 people, but now thousands attend. The pace of knowledge is very fast and the quality of science is excellent. Finding out about the interactions of the different types of cells in the brain is fundamental to our understanding of how the brain works."
Professor Bart De Strooper is the Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, at University College London, and Professor of Molecular Medicine at KU Leuven and VIB (Belgium), where he carried out the research that earned him his share of the prize. He discovered that presenilin is a protein that cuts other proteins into smaller pieces which is an important and complex process in normal cell signalling (the communication between cells). Mutations in the presenilin genes cause Alzheimer’s disease. He found that these mutations lead to the production of abnormal amyloid which is the main constituent of the plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. He has deciphered in great detail what the mutations are doing and how they drive the disease process. "Treating amyloid very early could provide protection against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in later life. But we have a ‘catch 22 situation’ in that we cannot do experiments in healthy people," said De Strooper. "The Brain Prize recognises that basic science makes a real contribution, even though much of it cannot be directly applied to clinical care. The Prize is an important sign for young scientists to know that they can still make big discoveries, and that we urgently need them to pursue research into diseases of the ageing brain."
Professor Michel Goedert is a Programme Leader at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge and an Honorary Professor at Cambridge University. His work using human brain tissues, transgenic mice, cultured cells and purified proteins was instrumental in the discovery – despite considerable initial scepticism – of the importance of Tau protein for Alzheimer’s disease. When Tau acts abnormally, it assembles into clusters of filaments and becomes insoluble. A pathological pathway leading from soluble to insoluble filamentous Tau is believed to cause neurodegeneration. In his more recent studies, he showed that filamentous Tau clusters can propagate along nerve cell pathways through self-seeding. "Eventually – perhaps decades after seed formation – the first disease symptoms appear", said Goedert. "Therefore, if you can halt propagation, that could lead to ways to prevent and treat disease."
Christian Haass is the speaker of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Munich and a professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU). He got his PhD in 1989 and became a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Neurologic Diseases of Harvard Medical School. In 1995 he went back to Germany to become a Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg. Since 1999, he has been Professor of Biochemistry and head of the Department of Metabolic Biochemistry at the Biomedical Research Center (BMC) and since 2009 he is also the speaker of the DZNE Munich. Professor Haass has received several honors including the Potamkin Award in 2002 (together with De Strooper), the MetLife Award in 2015 and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Award of the German Research Foundation in 2006.
Bart De Strooper became Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1985 at KU Leuven, Belgium. In 1988, he received his Master of Medical Sciences at Leuven, and completed his PhD in 1991 at the same university. He is currently Full Professor of Molecular Medicine at KU Leuven, Belgium and a Group Leader at the VIB Center for Brain & Disease Research. In 2016, he was appointed Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL London, UK. Professor De Strooper has received several distinguished awards for his research, including the Potamkin Prize in 2002 (together with Professor Haass), the Alois Alzheimer Award in 2003, the FWO-Joseph Maisin Prize in 2005 and the MetLife Foundation Award in 2008.
Michel Goedert, a Luxembourg national, received an MD from the University of Basel (Switzerland) in 1980 and a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1984. He has worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge as a Programme Leader since 1984 and was Head (joint or sole) of its Neurobiology Division between 2003 and 2016. Since 2014, he has also been an Honorary Professor of Experimental Molecular Neurology at Cambridge University. Goedert received a number of honours, including the MetLife Foundation Award in 1996 and the Potamkin Prize in 1998. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the United Kingdom.
John Hardy received his PhD from Imperial College London in 1981. He did postdoctoral research at the MRC Neuropathogenesis Unit in Newcastle upon Tyne, and then at the Swedish Brain Bank in Umeå, Sweden where he started to work on Alzheimer's disease. At St. Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London in 1985 he initiated genetic studies of Alzheimer's disease. He took the Pfeiffer Endowed Chair of Alzheimer's Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa in 1992. In 1996, he moved to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and became Chair of Neuroscience in 2000. He moved to National Institute on Aging, Bethesda, Maryland in 2001 as Chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics. He returned to the UK in 2007 to take up the Chair of Molecular Biology of Neurological Disease at the Reta Lila Weston Institute of Neurological Studies, University College London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society.
The Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize
The one million Euro Brain Prize is awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark. In 2018, the Prize will be awarded for the eighth consecutive year. The Brain Prize is a personal prize, awarded to one or more scientists who have achieved distinction through outstanding contributions to brain research. More information can be found on The Brain Prize website: http://www.thebrainprize.org/
The Lundbeck Foundation is one of the largest, industrial foundations in Denmark with a market value of more than DKK 60 billion. The Lundbeck Foundation annually grants approx. DKK 500 million in support of Danish-based, biomedical research with a special focus on brain health as part of the foundation’s vision to create better lives through new knowledge. More information: www.lundbeckfonden.com
Watch the announcement live on March 6th, 14.00 h CET: www.thebrainprize.org
The national UK Dementia Research Institute was established in 2017 by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The £250million institute wants to accelerate discoveries to prevent, treat and care for people with all types of dementia. www.ukdri.ac.uk
The MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) is a research institute dedicated to the understanding of important biological processes at the levels of atoms, molecules, cells and organisms. In doing so, we provide knowledge needed to solve key problems in human health. www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk
The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) is a research institute dedicated to dementia and all its facets. A member of the Helmholtz Association and first of six German centers for health research (DZG), the DZNE was established by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Following an interdisciplinary research approach at ten sites in Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, Tübingen, Ulm and Witten, the DZNE works closely with universities, university hospitals and other partners. www.dzne.de
For further information:
Dr. Dirk Förger
DZNE - Head of Communications/Spokesperson
LMU – Head of Communications/Spokesperson
Snell Communications, London