Nedergaard Recognized with Nakasone Award for Pioneering Research

Mar. 26, 2024

Maiken Nedergaard, MD, DMSc, has been recognized by the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) with its 2024 Nakasone Award for her “groundbreaking discovery and exploration” of the glymphatic system, the brain’s unique waste removal system, and the role that sleep plays in its function.  

“Dr. Nedergaard forever changed the way we understand sleep as an essential biological function that promotes brain health and plays a crucial role in preventing diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases,” said HFSPO secretary-general Pavel Kabat. “It is a fundamental discovery worthy of being honored with the 2024 HFSPO Nakasone Award.”

Nedergaard is co-director for the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, which maintains research facilities at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Copenhagen.  In 2012, her lab first described the glymphatic system, a previously unknown network of channels that piggybacks on blood vessels.  The system is used to transport cerebrospinal fluid deep into brain tissue and flush away toxic waste, including beta amyloid and tau, two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. 

A year later, her lab showed that this system primarily functions while we sleep, pointing to the important restorative role that sleep plays in brain health.  Her lab has since gone on to show how the glymphatic system slows down as we age and can be impaired by disrupted sleep, high blood pressure, and traumatic brain injury.  These findings have fundamentally changed our understanding of the biological purpose of sleep and opened the door to potential new ways to prevent and treat neurological disorders.  

HFSPO was founded in 1989 to advance international research and training at the frontier of the life sciences. Its aims are to promote intercontinental collaboration and training in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research focused on the life sciences. HFSP receives financial support from the governments or research councils of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, as well as from the European Commission. Since 1990, more than 8,500 researchers from more than 70 countries have been supported, including 29 awardees who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.