Christian Haass is awarded world’s top brain research prize

NOMIS board member Christian Haass and three other neuroscientists — Bart De Strooper, Michel Goedert and John Hardy — are the recipients of the 2018 Brain Prize for their groundbreaking research on the genetic and molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease. The research pioneered by these four European scientists has revolutionized our understanding of the changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and related types of dementia.

When Haass, professor at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, started to work on Alzheimer’s disease in 1990, very little was known about the cellular mechanisms involved in this disease. He focused on the generation and metabolism of amyloid, the major component of the disease that signifies plaques. Haass hypothesized that amyloid production may be normal and not necessarily part of a pathological process, which at the time was the widely accepted general opinion in the field. This pivotal finding was highly significant and has since led to the development of therapies to lower amyloid production in patients. Working with Hardy, Haass has demonstrated how amyloid is generated and how genetic mutations seen in families with very aggressive and rare forms of Alzheimer’s affect its production.

Most recently, Haass has generated mouse models to investigate inflammation in neurodegenerative disorders, which according to his findings may at least initially play a protective role. He found that genetic mutations alter the function of special immune cells called microglia in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This has stimulated a completely new approach to designing possible new therapies by modulating the activity of microglia.

The Brain Prize, awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark, is worth one million euros. Awarded annually, it recognizes one or more international scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience.

SRF: “The fight against forgetting”

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Tony Wyss-Coray appeared on the Swiss television program, Einstein, which aired on Feb. 15, 2018. The story, “Kampf gegen das Vergessen” (“The fight against forgetting”), addresses the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s disease and highlights Wyss-Coray’s promising research in this direction. Professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University, Wyss-Coray’s groundbreaking findings suggest that the plasma in our blood directly influences aging. His most recent studies have shown that circulatory factors can modulate neurogenesis, neuroimmunity and cognitive function in mice and that blood-derived factors from young mice or humans can rejuvenate the aging mouse brain.

NOMIS is supporting Wyss-Coray’s continued research into identifying the circulatory factors that influence aging and using those factors to rejuvenate the aging or degenerated brain.

Einstein is a weekly Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) newsmagazine.

Salk Institute: “Alzheimer’s drug turns back clock in powerhouse of cell”

Salk researchers have identified the molecular target of J147. The experimental drug is something of a modern elixir of life; it’s been shown to treat Alzheimer’s disease and reverse aging in mice and is almost ready for clinical trials in humans. Now, Salk scientists have solved the puzzle of what, exactly, J147 does. In a paper published January 7, 2018, in the journal Aging Cell, they report that the drug binds to a protein found in mitochondria, the energy-generating powerhouses of cells. In turn, they showed, it makes aging cells, mice and flies appear more youthful.

“This really glues together everything we know about J147 in terms of the link between aging and Alzheimer’s,” says Dave Schubert, head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory and the senior author on the new paper. “Finding the target of J147 was also absolutely critical in terms of moving forward with clinical trials.”

Schubert’s group developed J147 in 2011, after screening for compounds from plants with an ability to reverse the cellular and molecular signs of aging in the brain. J147 is a modified version of a molecule (curcumin) found in the curry spice turmeric. In the years since, the researchers have shown that the compound reverses memory deficits, potentiates the production of new brain cells, and slows or reverses Alzheimer’s progression in mice. However, they didn’t know how J147 worked at the molecular level.

In the new work, led by Schubert and Salk Research Associate Josh Goldberg, the team used several approaches to home in on what J147 is doing. They identified the molecular target of J147 as a mitochondrial protein called ATP synthase that helps generate ATP—the cell’s energy currency—within mitochondria. They showed that by manipulating its activity, they could protect neuronal cells from multiple toxicities associated with the aging brain. Moreover, ATP synthase has already been shown to control aging in C. elegans worms and flies.

The Salk Institute has been a NOMIS partner since 2008.

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Aging Cell: “The mitochondrial ATP synthase is a shared drug target for aging and dementia”

Scientists at the Salk Institute have published the results of a study in the journal Aging Cell, showing the novel molecular link between aging and dementia through the identification of the molecular target for the Alzheimer’s disease drug J147.

Led by Dave Schubert, head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, and Salk Research Associate Josh Goldberg, the team identified the molecular target of J147 as a mitochondrial protein called ATP synthase that helps generate ATP—the cell’s energy currency—within mitochondria. They showed that by manipulating its activity, they could protect neuronal cells from multiple toxicities associated with the aging brain. Moreover, ATP synthase has already been shown to control aging in C. elegans worms and flies. Now, J147 is nearing clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

The Salk Institute has been a NOMIS partner since 2008.

NOMIS welcomes Ruben Garcia Santos as head of Scientific Affairs and Innovation Networks

Ruben Garcia Santos has joined the NOMIS Foundation as the head of Scientific Affairs and Innovation Networks at the foundation’s headquarters in Zurich. In this new role, Garcia will be responsible for developing and managing partnerships and innovation networks as well as spearheading strategic communications.

Prior to joining NOMIS in December 2017, Garcia spent more than 15 years in the life sciences, healthcare and international development sectors. He has held global positions in the areas of commercial affairs, market access, business development and alliance management in leading medtech and biopharmaceutical organizations, as well as at the United Nations. He specializes in the development of strategic partnerships to develop sustainable businesses, accelerate innovation and drive systemic change.

“I have been fortunate to be a part of many challenging and impactful endeavors throughout my career. I have learned that we can ignite and accelerate transformational discoveries and innovation by creating a supportive and open environment where individuals and teams can thrive and by leveraging the effective development of strategic alliances and collaborative ecosystems. For this reason, I am both excited and honored to join the NOMIS Foundation and I look forward to collaborating with such pioneering and inspirational scientists, researchers and partners,” said Garcia.

A Swiss and Spanish national, Garcia holds an MS in International Health Care Management, Economics and Policy from SDA Bocconi University (Italy) and a BSc Joint Honours in Business Management & Health Studies from the University of Worcester (United Kingdom). He has further post-graduate education in strategy, innovation and sustainability from Harvard Business School (United States) and Cambridge University (United Kingdom). His areas of interest include disease prevention at the biological and system levels, behavioral sciences, and network and collective intelligence across scientific disciplines.

Aeon: “‘Let the soul dangle’: how mind-wandering spurs creativity”

In a recent article by Julia Christensen, Guido Giglioni and NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Manos Tsakiris, published in Aeon, the authors suggest that “reverie might help to prime us to think both productively and creatively by somehow cementing our sense of self, drawing body and mind together in a train of thought and biological action.” The authors identify art as a catalyst for letting the mind wander, which in turn induces reflections and emotions and affects the body’s physiology.

Tsakiris is leading the Body and Image in Arts and Sciences (BIAS) project at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London. BIAS is supported by the NOMIS Foundation.