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Robert Vassar Receives Neurology Prize

March 2, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Robert Vassar, professor of cell and molecular biology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is one of three recipients of the American Academy of Neurology's 2009 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick's, Alzheimer's and Related Diseases.

Vassar, who will receive a $33,300 cash award, was cited for his outstanding achievement in researching the molecular basis of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is thought to arise from the accumulation of a toxic protein, beta-amyloid (Aß), which forms brain lesions called amyloid plaques. The enzyme BACE1 is required for the generation of Aß.

Vassar and his colleagues have shown that BACE1 levels are increased in Alzheimer's and have determined a molecular mechanism responsible for this increase. The innovative explorations could lead to novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of Alzheimer's. Drugs designed to block BACE1 should reduce the production of Aß.

Previously, as head of an Alzheimer's lab at Amgen, Inc., Vassar was the first to discover BACE1 and subsequently set out to validate that it was responsible for Aß pathology in the brain. The studies reinforced that BACE1 inhibition is a very promising target for Alzheimer's treatment and launched academic and industrial research into BACE1 and small molecule- inhibitor drugs.

Vassar has been on the Northwestern faculty since 2001. Before working at Amgen and Northwestern, he did postdoctoral research at Columbia University. He won the 2008 MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease. Vassar has published in major scientific journals, including Science, Cell, Nature Neuroscience and Neuron.

Vassar has dedicated his work to the memory of his mother, who died of Alzheimer's disease in 1999.
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