Top dementia researchers awarded prestigious Brain Prize


By Philip Tubby | Tuesday 06 March 2018

Pioneering dementia researchers Professors John Hardy, Bart De Strooper, Christian Haass and Michel Goedert have today been awarded the prestigious 2018 Brain Prize.

The award honours outstanding contribution to neuroscience and recognises their innovative work on the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The four leading researchers will share a collective prize of one million Euros awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark. Three of the four recipients, Prof Hardy, Prof De Strooper and Prof Goedert are key players in UK dementia research.

Prof John Hardy’s work includes the discovery of rare faulty genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease. His discoveries implicated a build-up of the amyloid protein as the event that kick-starts damage to nerve cells in Alzheimer’s. This idea, known as the amyloid cascade hypothesis, has been central to Alzheimer’s Research for nearly three decades.

Based at the UCL Institute of Neurology in London, Prof Hardy has received extensive funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK, is a co-Lead Academic Scientist of our UCL Drug Discovery Institute and is currently a Patron of the charity.

Prof Bart De Strooper is the Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), the country’s largest ever dementia research initiative. Alzheimer’s Research UK is a founding charity funder of the UK DRI which, under Prof De Strooper’s leadership, is taking a strategic approach to tackle the big unanswered questions in dementia research.

His work led to important discoveries about proteins called secretases, which chop up other proteins in the course of communication between nerve cells in the brain. He helped to discover how genetic errors that alter the activity of secretases can lead to Alzheimer’s processes and provided key insights into the cellular basis of the disease. Prof De Strooper is co-Lead Academic Scientist of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s UCL Drug Discovery Institute, alongside Prof Hardy.

Prof Bart De Strooper

Prof Michel Goedert, from the University of Cambridge, was the recipient of the first grant ever awarded by Alzheimer’s Research UK. His pioneering work highlighted the importance of the tau protein in neurodegenerative diseases and developed the understanding of how nerve cells become damaged in the brain during dementia. The findings have helped inform years of subsequent research aiming to develop methods of interrupting or preventing brain cell damage.

Prof Christian Haass from the University of Munich helped demonstrate how amyloid is produced in the brain. Working with Prof Hardy he helped to discover how amyloid production changes in people with rare familial forms of the disease. Prof Haass’s recent work has focussed on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and has brought about a new approach to designing possible new therapies by modulating the activity of immune cells known as microglia.

Prof Christian Haass

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“Our congratulations go to all four of these outstanding scientists whose vital contributions have transformed our understanding of the complex causes of Alzheimer’s disease. The fact that three of these researchers work in the UK reflects the country’s position as a global leader in dementia research and we are proud that Alzheimer’s Research UK has been able to play a role in supporting their important work.

“Their achievements show how much progress has been made in dementia research in recent decades, and the importance of mechanistic research in shaping the way we study and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s. It is through the dedication and hard work of researchers that we will continue to drive breakthroughs that pave the way for new treatments and provide hope to people with dementia and their families. We look forward to working with these leading scientists in the years to come as they continue to push back the frontiers of our knowledge and take up the biggest challenges in dementia research.”

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Philip Tubby