JUNE 8, 2022 — The University of Texas at San Antonio today announced the 10 recipients of the Oskar Fischer Prize, an international competition to expand society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. The prize, the world’s largest of its kind, totals $4 million in gold, silver and bronze categories, with finalists receiving $500,000, $400,000 and $300,000, respectively.
Launched in late 2019 following a philanthropic gift to UTSA from Texas businessman James Truchard, the Oskar Fischer Prize put forward a unique challenge by engaging the world’s brightest researchers to develop proposals to change how society looks at Alzheimer’s disease.
“UTSA is deeply appreciative of Jim Truchard’s thoughtful and innovative philanthropy in establishing the Oskar Fischer Prize. He’s an incredible champion for the creation of new knowledge and we’re grateful for his very generous support,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “As part of UTSA’s strategic commitment to advance research excellence, the Oskar Fischer Prize allows us to significantly impact new discoveries in brain health that will directly help solve the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease.”
To ensure the best candidates were selected, each entrant underwent a rigorous selection process that included a comprehensive literature review as well as a demonstration of novel thinking, to exhibit who can best synthesize the breadth of Alzheimer’s disease research to date into one explanation for the cause of the disease.
An interdisciplinary committee of advisors reviewed the prize entries and selected the finalists who brought forth distinct, innovative ideas showing the complexity of the disease. These ideas look beyond the prevailing theories and have the potential to direct future research and treatments.
“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 David Silva, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. “This partnership demonstrates our leadership to expand society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The selected entries include unique theories that shed light on key aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and provided new frameworks for the potential causes.
Gold prize recipients are:
Carlo Abbate, Clinical neuropsychologist and researcher; IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Istituto Palazzolo, Italy.
Abbate’s idea is that Alzheimer’s disease starts in the neural stem cells in the niches of adult neurogenesis, the process in which new neurons are formed in the brain.
Estela Area-Gomez, Head scientist of biomedicine and associate professor of neurology, Columbia University, U.S., and Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas “Margarita Salas,” CSIC, Spain.
Area-Gomez proposes that Alzheimer’s disease is a lipid disorder and that C99, a cholesterol sensor, contributes to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease through its role as a regulator of cholesterol metabolism and how it promotes the formation of mitochondria-associated endoplasmic reticulum membranes.
Bess Frost, Associate professor, neurobiology, UT Health San Antonio, U.S.
Frost proposes that neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and related tauopathies results from the negative consequences of pathogenic forms of tau on the three-dimensional packaging of DNA. DNA restructuring affects the cellular identity of brain cells, driving cell death.
Ralph Nixon, M.D., Professor, psychiatry and cell biology; Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, U.S.
Nixon’s idea centers around the disruption of the brain’s endosomal-lysosomal and autophagy network, the apparatus in the cell that serves to clear out degenerated proteins and helps rejuvenate the cell. The idea is that a fundamental issue in Alzheimer’s disease is the failure to recycle abnormal waste and proteins; they end up accumulating and can become toxic.
Silver prize recipients are Bernd Moosmann, Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, and Dr. Donald Weaver, M.D., the University of Toronto, Canada.
Bronze prize recipients are Annelise E. Barron, Stanford University, Dr. Gunnar K. Gouras, M.D., Lund University, Sweden, Varghese John, University of California, Los Angeles, and Dr. Russell Swerdlow, M.D., University of Kansas Medical Center.
Through personal research, Truchard learned about the work of Oskar Fischer (1876-1942), a Jewish pioneer in neuroscience who studied dementia at the same time as Alois Alzheimer. It has been more than 112 years since Fischer and Alois Alzheimer published descriptions of the condition known as Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, gaps remain in society’s understanding of the cause of the disease.
Finding a researcher to articulate those gaps and make the puzzle whole inspired Truchard to invest in this project.
“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 Truchard. “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.”
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, an estimated 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia. That population is expected to increase to 78 million by 2030.
The challenge was incubated in the UTSA Brain Health Consortium, a transdisciplinary team of more than 40 world-class scientists committed to demystifying the inner workings of the brain. The Consortium integrates researchers with expertise in stem cells/precision medicine, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, psychology and behavior, with the common goal of applying those discoveries to prevent and treat neurological disorders.
“I’m confident the work of these brilliant laureates, coupled with UTSA’s collaborative transdisciplinary approaches in brain health, will lead to breakthrough solutions to deepen our understanding of this disease and improve human health,” said Jenny Hsieh, the Semmes Foundation Distinguished Chair in Cell Biology at UTSA and director of the UTSA Brain Health Consortium.
The Oskar Fischer Prize awards will be presented on June 22 during The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas conference in San Antonio.
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