This week brought recognition to four neuroscientists who received the Lundbeck Foundation’s Brain Prize for their crucial research into Alzheimer’s Disease. The four scientists are Bart De Strooper from Belgium, Michel Goedert from Luxembourg, Christian Haass from Germany and John Hardy from the UK. They have been recognised for their highly specialised studies of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders and are now being awarded the world’s most valuable prize for brain research, the 2018 Brain Prize, worth 1 million euros (approximately 7.5 million Danish kroner).
Together, these four internationally respected neuroscientists have revolutionised our understanding of the harmful changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
So what did they do? This is taken from the Lundbeck Foundation’s own news release about the awards and thank goodness I didn’t have to translate this from Danish.
So let’s start from scratch
German doctor Alois Alzheimer described the disease as far back as 1906, but no-one yet knows what causes its onset. Alzheimer’s primarily affects older people but can be seen in many adults under 65 years of age. Once the disease develops, brain cells gradually die and proteins accumulate both between the brain cells (beta-amyloid plaques) and inside the brain cells (tau tangles). These proteins have a function in the normal brain, but in people living with Alzheimer’s they are produced in an abnormal form, causing them to accumulate which leads to the disease.
So what have the prize winners contributed to our knowledge
“By the nineties, prizewinner Christian Haass already knew that beta-amyloid is not the result of a pathogenic process but that the protein forms naturally from precursors. Haass also identified and described the secretase enzymes which control its formation. Thanks to Haass’ research, we now know that the accumulation of beta-amyloid between brain cells is due to an imbalance in the production and the clearance of amyloid.
Bart De Strooper’s significant contribution was to describe in detail how the secretases are constructed and how they function. This insight led to the development of drugs which either lower production or increase clearance of beta-amyloid.
Michel Goedert has proved that the tau protein is the most important constituent of the tangles we see inside the neurons in Alzheimer’s. Goedert was also instrumental in proving it likely that tau itself plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Steen Hasselbalch, Professor at the University of Copenhagen and Alzheimer’s specialist, says: “Goedert’s most recent and very exciting discovery is that tau can spread within the brain. With this discovery, Goedert has shown that Alzheimer’s is more than just an accumulation of beta-amyloid. It has given us valuable new ideas for the development of therapies.”
Finally, John Hardy’s work focuses on the genetic mutations that can cause Alzheimer’s. In rare cases, Alzheimer’s disease is inherited, and there are families in which the risk of contracting the disease from one parent is 50%. Based on his genetic studies, John Hardy and his co-workers were the driving force behind the hypothesis that accumulation of beta-amyloid is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. “
Their research achievements form the basis for development of the drugs that are currently tested as therapies for the disease.
All 4 are going to Denmark on 9 May to receive the Brain Prize at a ceremony in the Royal Danish Library Black Diamonds Building.
There is a bit more about their success on the BBC Health pages at
Alzheimer’s researchers win brain prize