Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997 for his discovery of prions, a class of proteins that causes CJD in humans and “mad cow” disease in cattle. The discovery has informed research into the role of misprocessed proteins in more common brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Mucke, a basic researcher, is best known for his role in instigating a turnaround in the direction of research into Alzheimer’s disease, from an almost exclusive focus on morphological abnormalities in the brain to a focus on the molecular processes that cause the dysfunction of neural networks in the brain.
Ten years ago, many scientists believed the condition was caused by the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Mucke and colleagues showed that a minuscule constituent of these plaques, known as amyloid-beta peptide, can disrupt the function of brain cells independent of plaques, thus narrowing the whereabouts of the disease culprit from the “haystack” to the “needle.”
Mucke has also generated genetically engineered mice to pinpoint the key molecules and proteins that contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s thereby setting the stage for new therapies to combat the disease. Using mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, Mucke and colleagues have successfully prevented the disease progression and even reversed cognitive impairments.
The Potamkin Prize, says Mucke, is a wonderful reinforcement of the synergism” between himself and Miller. “Working hand-in-hand, we have developed innovative translational programs for the investigation and treatment of dementia and related disorders.”
Miller concurs, describing the Potamkin Prize as “the highlight of my academic career.”
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