It’s a bittersweet moment, commending competitive research achievements in Alzheimer’s disease. On June 8, the University of Texas at San Antonio acknowledged some of the top contributions internationally to our collective understanding of how the degenerative disease starts. The Oskar Fischer Prize awards a total of $4 million, divided into gold, silver, and bronze categories.
“Over the past two years, UTSA has worked closely with a broad group of advisers from the scientific, business and public policy realms to evaluate a large number of visionary ideas,” said UTSA College of Sciences Dean David Silva in a press release. “This partnership demonstrates our leadership to further society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The gold prize ($500,000) goes to four finalists, two of which are in the United States, including one in San Antonio. Italy’s Carlo Abbate, Ph.D., theorizes that Alzheimer’s starts in neural stem cells while new neurons are formed, and Spain’s Estela Area-Gomez, Ph.D., theorizes that it’s a lipid disorder relating to the regulation of cholesterol metabolism. Ralph A. Nixon, Ph.D., M.D., represents Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and posits that an error in cleaning out waste in the brain leads to a toxic accumulation. Finally, and closest to home representing UTSA, Bess Frost, Ph.D. believes the issue is with DNA restructuring, which causes issues in cell identity and eventually cell death.
Frost’s personal statement through UTSA Health anchors her work to new research in tau, a protein and “a key pathological player in Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.” Her laboratory makes discoveries in fruit flies, and compares those findings to post-mortem human specimens. Now an associate professor, she initially received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Texas at Austin.
The silver prize ($400,000) goes to Germany’s Bernd Moosmann, Ph.D. and Canada’s Donald Weaver, M.D. Bronze prize recipients ($300,000) are Sweden’s Gunnar K. Gouras, M.D. and three working in America: Annelise E. Barron, Ph.D. at Stanford University, Varghese John, Ph.D. at University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell Swerdlow, M.D. at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“Despite a century and tens of billions of dollars spent on Alzheimer’s Disease research, no definitive explanation for a cause has been found,” said Texas businessman James Truchard, whose philanthropic contribution established this prize, in the release. “The Prize’s goal is to bring forth ideas which can create a foundation for future research. While no single entry covered all the major aspects of Alzheimer’s, I believe a combination of these ideas creates a launchpad for future research.”
June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month through the Alzheimer's Association, which is organizing a worldwide fundraising day on June 21, “The Longest Day.” It estimates that Alzheimer’s or another dementia is the cause of death in one in three seniors, and more than 11 million people in America are providing care for patients with dementia.