Rochester Scientist Wins Major Award for Alzheimer’s Research

Apr. 14, 2009

A Rochester researcher whose work has opened up a whole new avenue in Alzheimer’s disease research has received a major prize from the American Academy of Neurology.

Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Neurodegenerative and Vascular Brain Disorders at the University of Rochester Medical Center, will receive the 2009 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer's, and Related Diseases during the AAN annual meeting later this month in Seattle.

Zlokovic will split the $100,000 prize with two other researchers, Michael Wolfe, Ph.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Robert Vassar, Ph.D., of Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. The prize, which honors researchers for their work on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, will go toward the investigators’ Alzheimer’s research.

A professor in both the departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Zlokovic is recognized worldwide for his pioneering research on the blood vessels in the brain and the crucial role they play in our health. He has made a series of surprising findings that are forming the basis for new avenues of treatment that would complement the stable of medications that doctors now have to treat patients with the disease.

He has shown that the brain’s vascular system and the blood-brain barrier play a key role in ridding the brain of the toxic amyloid beta that is present in the brains of patients. His team has identified several molecules that falter when the toxic protein accumulates in the brain, and he has demonstrated several strategies for preventing or lowering its accumulation in the brain. Partly as a result of his work, new drugs are being tested in people in a completely new effort to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Zlokovic is also known internationally for his work on stroke. In a series of prominent scientific discoveries, Zlokovic has shown that the compound, a form of a medication known as APC that doctors now use to treat sepsis, offers promise for stroke patients as well. He has demonstrated that APC protects brain cells that are under siege by quelling inflammation and protecting neurons from the toxic effects of another drug, TPA, which is used to treat stroke. Zlokovic and colleagues are testing APC in stroke patients in Rochester and three other cities around the nation.

His expertise on the body’s vascular system is opening newer areas as well. Last year he showed how defective blood vessels may play a role in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Two years ago Zlokovic also won the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease, one of the biggest awards available to scientists who work on Alzheimer’s disease. The year before that, he was honored by the Institute for the Study of Aging and by Elan Pharmaceuticals for his work. He has also received a Senator Jacob Javits Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and a MERIT Award from the National Institute on Aging. Just last week the Alzheimer’s Association awarded its Nancy R. McCune Research Award for Alzheimer’s Disease to Zlokovic, who is director for Interdisciplinary Research in Dementia at the Medical Center.