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U.S. and German Scientists Honored with MetLife Foundation Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease

February 25, 2010

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ — Complementary approaches to Alzheimer’s research were recognized as four scientists received the prestigious MetLife Foundation Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease in Washington, D.C. during a scientific briefing and luncheon. Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at the University of Florida and director of its Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases, and Edward H. Koo, M.D., professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, were honored alongside Eckhard Mandelkow, Ph.D., and Eva-Maria Mandelkow, M.D., Ph.D., director and principal investigator, respectively, of the Max-Planck-Institute for Structural Molecular Biology in Hamburg, Germany.

This year’s recipients are examples of how differing schools of thought can come together to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems. Drs. Koo and Golde have together identified the gamma-secretase modulators that decrease production of the highly toxic 42 amino acid “long” form of ABeta, which holds great promise for drug therapies to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s. Drs. Mandelkow and Mandelkow, a husband and wife team, have been seeking therapies through analysis of the pathological folding of tau protein, its aggregation to Alzheimer neurofibrillary tangles, and the development of inhibitors of this aberrant aggregation. Both approaches, though divergent in many ways, are now believed to hold promise for each other in disease treatment research.

Since 1986, MetLife Foundation has granted major awards to scientists who have demonstrated significant contributions to the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The program’s goal is to recognize the importance of basic research with an emphasis on providing scientists the opportunity to pursue ideas. Each winner received a $100,000 research grant and personal prize of $25,000 to further their work.

According to recent estimates, more than 26 million people worldwide are believed to be living with Alzheimer’s disease. In the United States, as many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, making it the seventh leading cause of death. If current population trends continue, the number of people with AD will increase to 7.7 million by the year 2030, unless the disease can be effectively treated, delayed, or prevented. The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid, and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older.

“MetLife Foundation has long recognized the impact Alzheimer’s has on families, society and the economy,” said C. Robert Henrikson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of MetLife, Inc. “We continue our commitment to support the outstanding scientists who are making strides and developing methods to combat and, perhaps someday, prevent Alzheimer’s disease from impacting future generations.”

“Millions around the world look to science to find hope for the families affected by Alzheimer’s, and the scientists we have honored — today and in year’s past — truly represent the best of what the scientific world has to offer,” said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation. “These awards are an investment in the future and we thank our awardees for their vital contributions.”

The event’s keynote speech was delivered by photographer Judith Fox, author of the book I Still Do: Loving and Living with Alzheimer’s, which puts a human face on Alzheimer’s through photographs and poetic writing. The book, named “one of the best of 2009″ by Photo-Eye Magazine, tells the story of Fox’s husband, Dr. Edmund Ackell, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years into their marriage. Fox was the owner of a large temporary service company on the East Coast, and her photographic work is in solo and group museum and gallery shows from New York to California, as well as in private, corporate, and museum collections throughout the United States and Europe.

The awards program began with a research briefing during which the award recipients elaborated on their work. The briefing was moderated by Robert N. Butler, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the International Longevity Center – USA, and Professor of Geriatrics, Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Butler is the chair of the MetLife Foundation’s Research Committee and also the founding director of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.

“Alzheimer’s disease research is crucial to saving an aging population from its devastating effects,” said Dr. Butler. “The personal and societal costs are staggering because Alzheimer’s takes away the essence of individuals and robs years from their families. Through these awards, MetLife Foundation has demonstrated sustained support for scientists working to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s by providing leading scientists with the funds to freely pursue their life-saving ideas.”

About the Award for Medical Research Winners

Dr. Todd E. Golde is a Professor of Neuroscience at the College of Medicine University of Florida (UF) and the Director of UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease, located in Gainesville, Florida. Following completion of his residency training at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Golde began his independent research career by trying to understand how different species of ABeta were produced. In collaboration with Dr. Koo and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, these studies led to the identification of compounds, now referred to as gamma-secretase modulators (GSMs), that selectively lowered the production of the highly toxic 42 amino acid “long” form of ABeta.

These studies have provided the rationale for development of novel drugs that might be used to treat or prevent AD. The Golde lab is focused on trying to translate the increased understanding of Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis into therapeutic approaches that might benefit patients. Other ongoing research includes: the development of optimized anti-amyloid immunotherapy for AD and other amyloid diseases; determining the role of various immunologic factors in AD and whether the immune factors can be targeted to prevent or treat AD; trying to understand why neurons die in AD so that more effective ways to slow neurodegeneration can be developed.

Dr. Golde received his Ph.D. (1991) and M.D. (1994) from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He completed his residency in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at University of Pennsylvania Hospital in 1996 where he served as chief resident. After serving as an assistant professor at UPenn, he went on to Mayo Clinic Florida where he later became chair of its Department of Neuroscience. Dr. Golde’s previous honors include a Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholar Award in Aging Research, an Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar Award, a Zenith Award from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust from the Rotary Clubs of the Southeastern United States.

Dr. Edward H. Koo is Professor of Neurosciences at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, and Co-Director of the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCSD, one of the five original ADRCs established by the National Institute on Aging.

Dr. Koo’s lab focuses on understanding the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, with the hope of translating findings from basic cell and molecular biological studies to the clinical setting, to better understand the causes of the disease or have an impact on treatments. Together with Dr. Golde, they have led the way in identifying gamma-secretase modulators in Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics. Dr. Koo’s lab has also been recognized for studies on characterizing the pathways of production of the amyloid beta-protein from the amyloid precursor protein (APP). He has investigated the physiological function of the APP and how it might contribute to Alzheimer pathogenesis in ways unrelated to amyloid production. More recently, he has focused his attention on how synapses are damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Koo received his B.A. (1976) from Amherst College and his M.D. (1980) from Duke University School of Medicine. He completed a year of residency in anatomic pathology at Duke Medical Center and a medical internship at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After that he completed a neurology residency at the University of California, San Francisco and later, a neuropathology fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Koo became assistant professor in pathology at Johns Hopkins and then relocated to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital to become associate neurologist, neuropathologist and assistant, and later associate professor in pathology at Harvard Medical School. Soon after, he joined the Department of Neurosciences at UCSD becoming full professor in 2000. Dr. Koo’s previous honors include a Research Career Development Award from NIH, recipient of a Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholar Award in Aging Research, an AlliedSignal Award in Aging and the Zenith Award from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dr. Eckhard Mandelkow is director of the Max-Planck-Society’s Research Unit for Structural Molecular Biology in Hamburg, Germany. He is also a scientific member of the Max-Planck-Society and professor at the University of Hamburg.

Dr. Mandelkow has a long-standing interest in the structure of molecules and protein assemblies that make up the cytoskeleton of neurons, particularly microtubules, the proteins that associate with them and regulate their stability, the motor proteins that move along microtubules and carry cargoes around cells, and enzymes that modulate their interactions, such as protein kinases. The scientific goal of the lab was to determine the self-assembly of tau aggregates, the interactions with microtubules, and the conformation of tau in the normal and pathological state. One outcome of this research was the identification of “hotspots” in the structure that determine tau’s behavior. This allowed the design of variants of tau which differ predictably in their aggregation behavior, i.e. either aggregating rapidly or not at all. This has formed the basis for generating cell models and mouse models of tau pathology, and the screening and development of tau aggregation inhibitors as a potential therapeutic strategy.

Dr. Eckhard Mandelkow studied physics at universities of Braunschweig, New Orleans (Tulane, Fulbright exchange) and Hamburg, where he carried out a diploma thesis in high energy physics followed by a Ph.D. thesis at the Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg on the structure of virus proteins. His postdoctoral training was done at Brandeis University on the structure of microtubules and other polymers of the cytoskeleton, research later continued as group leader at the Max-Planck-Institute in Heidelberg and as director of the Max-Planck-Society’s Research Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, where current research is focused on the cellular biology and structure of tau protein and proteins modulating the function of tau.

Dr. Eva-Maria Mandelkow is principal investigator at the Max-Planck-Society’s Research Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, located on the campus of the German Electron Synchrotron Facility DESY in Hamburg, Germany.

Following clinical work at university hospitals, Dr. Mandelkow turned to research and investigated motor proteins from muscle and protein assemblies that determine the shape and motility of cells. She applied methods of high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy to the structure analysis of these proteins. Since tau, one of the major microtubule-associated proteins in the human brain, is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, she focused on the analysis of tau proteins from Alzheimer brain tissue and compared them with the properties of recombinant tau, in an effort to characterize the pathological changes of the protein in the disease. This led to the discovery that tau can inhibit transport processes and cause toxic effects in neurons. One major breakthrough was the generation of a regulatable mouse model that showed learning and memory deficits which disappeared after switching off the expression of the toxic tau species. The aim is to identify cellular reaction pathways leading to pathology involving tau, in particular the relationship between the toxicities of tau and amyloid-beta, to find ways to combat the disease. The projects were done in close collaboration with Eckhard Mandelkow’s team.

Dr. Eva-Maria Mandelkow obtained an M.D. degree at the universities of Heidelberg and Hamburg, worked at university clinics in Hamburg, New Orleans, and Heidelberg, and then joined the Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg for a Ph.D. thesis on the muscle motor protein, myosin. She moved to Brandeis University for postdoctoral research on cytoskeletal proteins, which was continued later at the Max-Planck-Institute and during sabbaticals at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, and MRC Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. With her husband Dr. Eckhard Mandelkow, she moved to the Max-Planck-Society’s Research Unit for Structural Molecular Biology in 1986.

About MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation was established in 1976 by MetLife to carry on its long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. For more than 20 years, MetLife and MetLife Foundation have invested more than $18 million for Alzheimer’s research and public information programs, including over $12 million through the Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease program. The Foundation has also supported a number of major initiatives, including the PBS documentary The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer’s; short pocket films on Alzheimer’s narrated by David Hyde-Pierce; an educational initiative with the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Centers; the film Alzheimer’s Disease: Facing the Facts; and initiatives that include caregiving videos, Alzheimer’s toolkits, and resources for the Hispanic community. For more information, visit www.metlife.org.

MetLife is the trade name of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company


    Contacts:

    David Hammarstrom
    (401) 827-2273
    dhammarstrom@metlife.com

    Ted Mitchell
    (401) 827-3236
    tjmitchell@metlife.com

SOURCE MetLife Foundation


Source: newswire



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