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UTSA awards $4 million to Oskar Fischer Prize recipients for innovative explanations of Alzheimer’s disease

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SAN ANTONIO, June 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) 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.  

The Oskar Fischer Prize launched in late 2019 following a philanthropic gift to UTSA from Texas businessman James Truchard.

“UTSA is deeply appreciative of Jim Truchard’s thoughtful and innovative philanthropy in establishing the Oskar Fischer Prize,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “He’s an incredible champion for the creation of new knowledge and we’re grateful for his very generous support. 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 evaluation process. 

“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 further society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The winning entries include unique theories that shed light on key aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and provide new frameworks for the potential causes.

Gold prize recipients are:

  • Carlo Abbate, Ph.D.
    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, Ph.D.
    Columbia University, USA, 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, Ph.D.
    University of Texas Health San Antonio, USA
    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 A. Nixon, Ph.D., M.D.
    Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, USA
    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, Ph.D., Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, and Donald Weaver, M.D., Ph.D., FRCP(C), from the University of Toronto, Canada. Bronze prize recipients are Annelise E. Barron, Ph.D., Stanford University, Gunnar K. Gouras, M.D., Lund University, Sweden, Varghese John, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell Swerdlow, M.D., University of Kansas Medical Center.

“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.

“I’m confident the work of these brilliant winners, 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.    

Learn more about the Oskar Fischer Prize, the recipients and their ideas. 

About The University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is a Tier One research university and Hispanic Serving Institution specializing in cyber, health, fundamental futures, and social-economic development. With more than 34,000 students, it is the largest university in the San Antonio metropolitan region. UTSA advances knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. The university embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property—for Texas, the nation and the world. Learn more online, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram or on UTSA Today.

About the UTSA Brain Health Consortium
The UTSA Brain Health Consortium is 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.

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