Penn physiologist receives Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from NIH

Erika Holzbaur, PhD, a professor of Physiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has received the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health. She was selected by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and will receive over $1.5 million over the next four years, with another $1.2 million pending satisfactory progress, to study molecular motors and their role in axonal transport and neurodegeneration.

Her lab has been studying molecular motors -- proteins that function as tiny machines to move organelles within a cell -- for almost two decades. Intracellular transport driven by these proteins is particularly important in neurons, as these cells can extend axons over distances of up to a meter. For the last few years Holzbaur has used live-cell imaging to get a better handle on what happens when the transport of cellular cargo goes along microtubules is inhibited, and how that may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease), Huntington's, and Parkinson's diseases.

Funding from this award will allow the lab to focus on new results linking defects in a pathway involved in the degradation of aging organelles, called autophagy, to the onset of ALS and Parkinson's disease.

The Javits Award is given to scientists selected by a NINDS advisory council from a pool of NIH grant applicants. The award is given to distinguished investigators who are leaders in their field, with a record of highly productive, cutting-edge research in neuroscience, in conjunction with an established record of service to NIH.

The Congress of the United States suggested that special awards be made for research in the neurosciences in honor of the late Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-NY), who suffered for several years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, and was a strong advocate of brain and nervous system research.

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