Drs Eva-Maria and Eckhard Mandelkow, researchers at the Max Planck Unit for Structural Molecular Biology at DESY (Hamburg) and at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, have been honored with the Potamkin Prize from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) for their contributions to the field of dementia research.
The award ceremony takes place on 14 April at the Annual Meeting of the AAN in Honolulu (Hawaii). Eva-Maria and Eckhard Mandelkow share the prize, endowed with 100 000 U.S. dollars, with Dennis Dickson (Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida). The Potamkin Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of dementia research. Since 1988, this important scientific honor is donated by the Potamkin entrepreneurial family from New York.
Together with their team, Eva-Maria and Eckhard Mandelkow have achieved major breakthroughs in Alzheimer research through their work on a protein termed tau. In the normal state tau strengthens the cytoskeleton in neurons and is involved in the transport of cell organelles. But very early in Alzheimer's disease it changes, becomes detached from the cytoskeleton and lumps together as cellular debris.
In their seminal work Eva-Maria and Eckhard Mandelkow investigated the mechanism of pathological tau aggregation and showed which parts of the protein are crucial for this process. Insights from this research then allowed them to investigate the consequences of tau protein aggregation in nerve cells in more detail using mouse and cellular models. The result showed that only forms of tau that are capable of aggregation destroy the synapses of nerve cells. If these forms of tau accumulate in neurons the mice perform poorly in learning and memory tests, thus showing typical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. If the production of toxic tau in the cells of the mice is halted, synapses regenerate and the mice recover from their memory disorder. This crucial observation shows that the disease process is in principle reversible. With this work Eva-Maria and Eckhard Mandelkow provide an important starting point for the development of potential therapies. Their investigations on tau structure and their mouse experiments now allow the identification of drugs that counteract the toxic properties of tau and - at least in mice - can combat cognitive impairment.
Dr. Eckhard Mandelkow studied physics and earned his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg on the structure of virus proteins. In his postdoctoral training at Brandeis University (Massachusetts, USA) he looked into proteins of the cytoskeleton and then continued this line of research with a focus on the structure and function of neuronal proteins, especially of motor proteins and tau proteins and their pathological changes during neurodegeneration. He is head of a laboratory of the Max Planck Society at the German Electron Synchrotron DESY and is currently building a new research group at the DZNE site in Bonn.
Dr. Eva-Maria Mandelkow studied medicine and worked for several years as physician in the clinic and then shifted her focus to basic research. She earned her doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg on a topic in muscle physiology. In subsequent research stays at Brandeis University (Massachusetts, USA), Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, California) and at the MRC Laboratory in Cambridge (United Kingdom) she worked on proteins of the cytoskeleton. Eva-Maria Mandelkow heads a research group at the Max Planck lab in Hamburg, which deals with cell and mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. She also moves to the DZNE in Bonn as a group leader in 2011.
Katrin Weigmann | idw
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