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US research prize

Christian Haass receives MetLife Award

München, 07/21/2015

LMU biochemist Christian Haass has been honored by the MetLife Foundation for his research into the molecular biology of Alzheimer's disease.

Professor Christian Haass (Foto: Jan Greune / LMU)

Professor Christian Haass, Director of the Adolf Butenandt Institute (and Chair of Metabolic Biochemistry) at Ludwig-Maximilians-University and Site Spokesman for the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Munich, received the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in the USA at the recent International Conference of the Alzheimer’s Association in Washington DC. The accolade acknowledges Haass’ seminal contribution to research into the molecular biology of Alzheimer's. Haass was the first to recognize that the β-amyloid protein is a key factor in the development of the disease.

In 1992, Haass observed that the production of β-amyloid – a modified form of which is the primary component of the deposits typical of Alzheimer's – is a lifelong process. Everybody produces this protein. However, in Alzheimer patients, it progressively accumulates in the brain in a toxic form that damages the nerve cells, and its deposition is accompanied by the classic symptoms of dementia, which include confusion, declining memory, and difficulties with orientation.

Huge breakthrough in Alzheimer's research

His discovery changed the view of Alzheimer's which prevailed at that time: β-amyloid is produced by all of us, not only by Alzheimer patients, and could be a potential biomarker and target for therapy. This surprising discovery represented a huge breakthrough in Alzheimer's research. It also provided a simple cell culture system in which to screen potential drugs, and some of the candidates already identified are currently being tested in human subjects. Moreover, Haass was the first person to show how the scissor-like enzymes responsible for the production of β-amyloid work, and what they are actually used for – important discoveries that allow physicians to avoid undesirable effects when developing and administering treatments that block these enzymes.

Haass was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by the German government in 2014 for his research on dementia. Most recently, he has shown that a genetic mutation in the so-called TREM2 protein damages phagocytes in the brain, presumably contributing to the loss of nerve cells – not only in Alzheimer's, but also in many other neurodegenerative diseases – that leads to the accumulation of dead, and therefore toxic, cell material.

Established in 1986, the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research is presented to scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the field of Alzheimer's research and is administered by the American Federation for Aging Research. Haass will use the $200,000 award to help continue his research. American neuroscientist Randall Batemann from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri also received a major award. The discoveries made by both brain researchers constitute the basis of realistic therapeutic approaches to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.