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Vassar Receives MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research

March 4, 2008
CHICAGO --- Robert J. Vassar, associate professor of cell and molecular biology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has received the MetLife Foundation Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease.

Vassar and two other researchers will each receive a $25,000 personal award, in addition to a $175,000 award to each of their institutions, to further their research.

Since 1986, MetLife Foundation has granted major awards to scientists who have demonstrated significant contributions to the understanding of Alzheimer's disease. Vassar was cited for his research on the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease

Vassar's latest work includes innovative explorations that could lead to gene therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer's. He and his colleagues at Northwestern are looking at whether RNA-interference of the beta-secretase enzyme known as BACE1 in adult mice can be used to reduce plaque levels. They have already shown that genetic deletion of BACE1 prevents amyloid beta-dependent memory deficits, brain cell loss, and plaques in mice. In addition, he is investigating the potential role of impaired energy metabolism in Alzheimer's disease.

Previously, as head of an Alzheimer's group at Amgen, Inc., Vassar and his colleagues were the first to clone and characterize BACE1 and subsequently set out to validate that it was responsible for wreaking havoc in the brain. By creating mouse models without the gene for BACE1, Vassar demonstrated that the brains of such mice were free of the amyloid beta peptide and that the mice appeared otherwise normal with no obvious side effects from the absence of BACE1. The studies reinforced that BACE1 inhibition is a very promising target for Alzheimer's treatment. The team's 1999 publication of their findings in Science magazine intensified scientists' investigations into beta-secretase and launched the quest for small molecule inhibitor drugs.

MetLife Foundation has supported Alzheimer's disease research and outreach activities for more than 20 years and has awarded over $11 million in grants through its Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease program.
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