MetLife Foundation today announced the recipients of the 2014 MetLife Foundation Awards for Medical Research: Riqiang Yan, Ph.D., vice chair of the Department of Neurosciences, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic; and Lary C. Walker, Ph.D., research professor of neuropharmacology and neurologic diseases and associate professor of neurology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University (Atlanta, GA) and Mathias Jucker, Ph.D., full professor, Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research and German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (Tübingen, Germany), who were given the award jointly. Jie Shen, Ph.D., professor of neurology, Harvard Medical School Center for Neurological Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Neurologic Diseases (Boston, MA), was given the Promising Research in Alzheimer's Disease Award.
Dr. Yan is co-discoverer of the protein BACE1, an enzyme that cleaves the amyloid-β precursor protein (APP) to form amyloid-beta (Aβ), a protein that is the main component of amyloid plaques. Aβ deposits in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, damaging their brain cells (neurons). BACE1 is seen as an important drug target for Alzheimer's therapy based on trying to decrease amyloid deposition.
Working collaboratively, Drs. Jucker and Walker pioneered a unifying principle for the onset and evolution of late-life brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, based on similarities with rare, fatal disorders known as prion diseases. They have amassed compelling experimental evidence that small aggregates of the basic proteins in these diseases act as "seeds" that start a domino-like chain reaction that causes similar proteins to aggregate and spread the disease throughout the brain.
Using a combination of research techniques, Dr. Shen elucidated the normal function of the presenilin gene in the developing, adult and aging brain. Her work revealed the importance of presenilins in memory, synaptic function and age-related survival of neurons. Presenilins, a family of proteins, have been implicated in several early onset forms of familial Alzheimer's disease.
The winners were recognized at a scientific briefing and awards ceremony today in New York.
"MetLife Foundation is proud to present the awards to recognize the work of these leading scientists, whose research helps bring us closer to finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease," said A. Dennis White, president and chief executive officer, MetLife Foundation. "They have made significant contributions that have helped us better understand this devastating illness, and have laid the groundwork for effective treatments."