4 March 2008. With this year’s Awards for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease, the MetLife Foundation recognized three scientists who advanced knowledge of the β- and γ-secretase enzymes and in this way helped build a foundation for much of today’s worldwide drug development programs against Alzheimer disease. Bart de Strooper of the K.U. Leuven, Belgium, Robert Vassar of Northwestern University, Chicago, and Philip Wong of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, received the award at a scientific briefing and ceremony held February 29 in Washington, D.C.
The MetLife Foundation has supported AD research for more than 20 years, having awarded some $11 million in grants through its awards program and other activities. This prize has become a prestigious one in the field, and it comes with a $25,000 personal check and $175,000 for the scientists’ institutions.
Working independently, the three scientists each spent the last decade probing the molecular biology of the two Aβ-generating enzymes. The foundation cited De Strooper’s extensive research on the role of γ secretase in generating Aβ and in Notch signaling, as well as his group’s research on different versions of the γ-secretase complex, (see, e.g., De Strooper et al., 1998; De Strooper et al., 1999; Herreman et al., 2000; De Strooper, 2003; Dominguez et al., 2005). Vassar was recognized for being first to clone the β-secretase BACE, and for his group’s subsequent work generating BACE-deficient mouse strains, characterizing BACE, and validating it as a drug target (Vassar et al., 1999; Haniu et al., 2000; Luo et al., 2001; Ohno et al., 2004). Last but not least, Wong early on recognized the role of presenilin in Notch signaling during development, and the need to inhibit the γ-secretase complex delicately, so as to spare Notch. To that end, Wong created a series of mouse models with each of the γ-secretase components deleted. Roughly simultaneously with Vassar, Wong made the first set of BACE knockout strains that validated BACE as a drug target (Cai et al., 2001; Li et al., 2003; Ma et al., 2005; Li et al., 2007).
De Strooper and Vassar are past members of the ARF Scientific Advisory Board, and all three scientists contribute to the Alzforum. On behalf of the community, the ARF editors lift an imaginary glass of bubbly to the awardees. Congratulations!—Gabrielle Strobel.