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Alzheimer research

ERC Advanced Grant for Christian Haass

Munich, 12/21/2012

LMU biochemist Professor Christian Haass has received an Advanced Investigator Grant, worth up to 2.5 million euros, from the European Research Council (ERC). ERC Advanced Grants give European researchers who are acknowledged as leaders in their respective fields the freedom to carry out innovative and ambitious new projects. Haass holds the chair of Metabolic Biochemistry at LMU and is Coordinator of the Munich Branch of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).

Some 18 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease – and this figure is expected to double by 2025. There is no effective treatment. Alzheimer’s is thought to be initiated by the “amyloid cascade”, a process that leads to the accumulation of insoluble plaques and eventually leads to cell death. The plaques are made up of aberrantly folded, short peptides, collectively referred to as beta-amyloid (Aβ). However, even 20 years after their discovery by Haass himself, it remains unclear which of the various forms of beta-amyloid actually initiates the lethal cascade.

In his ERC-funded project, “Identification and modulation of pathogenic Amyloid β-peptide species”, Haass hopes to shed new light on this question. “As we have been unable to pinpoint the really toxic peptide species, our efforts to treat the disease may have been poorly targeted,” says Haass. If he succeeds in identifying a pathogenic form of Aβ, this could serve as biomarker for diagnosis and monitoring of the disease. But Haass also wants to break new ground: He also plans to study whether, and if so how, the rate of formation of the pathogenic Aβ peptides can be reduced using novel interventions.

To achieve this, he intends to screen for gene products (proteins) that specifically inhibit the generation and accumulation of pathogenic forms of Aβ, without provoking side-effects. This promises to be a very demanding task, but if the search is successful, it could provide a route to the development of an effective therapy. In addition, Haass is interested in further defining features that are common to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as frontotemporal dementia.

A multidisciplinary strategy

However, the project will not be confined to cell biology. Haass will investigate the short- and long-term effects of potential therapeutics in whole animals. “Our approach is interdisciplinary – extending from molecular analysis to brain imaging. We hope that this strategy will give us a better understanding of Alzheimer’s,” says Haass. With its interdisciplinary methodology, the project is designed not only to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the genesis of this form of dementia, but also to find new biomarkers for the illness and provide a platform for the development of new treatment options.

Professor Christian Haass studied Biology at Ruprechts-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg, obtaining his doctorate in 1989. He then worked in the Center for Neurological Diseases at Harvard Medical School, as a Postdoctoral Fellow until 1992, and subsequently as Assistant Professor. In 1995 Haass was named Professor of Molecular Biology in Mannheim, and moved to LMU in 1999 to assume the Chair of Metabolic Biochemistry. Since 2009, he is also the speaker of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Munich. Haass has received many awards for his accomplishments in research, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2002. In 2012, Haass also took on the post of Speaker for a new Cluster of Excellence – the Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology (Synergy).

ERC Advanced Investigator Grants

ERC Advanced Investigator Grants are designed to support highly innovative research, which has the potential to extend significantly the frontiers of existing fields and pioneer the investigation of new areas. Projects are assessed solely on the basis of the scientific stature of their authors and the originality and quality of the proposed research program.

 

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