American Academy of Neurology Awards 2004 Potamkin Prize to Two Scientists Instrumental in Developing Alzheimer’s Disease Therapies

St. Paul, Minn. – The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) will award the 2004 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases to Leon J. Thal, MD, and Roger M. Nitsch, MD. The $100,000 Potamkin Prize will be awarded April 27 at the AAN annual meeting in San Francisco. Often called the “Nobel Prize of Neurology,” the Potamkin Prize honors and rewards researchers for their work in helping advance the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Thal is professor and chairman, Department of Neurosciences, director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of California, San Diego, and chief investigator of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, a nationwide consortium of Alzheimer’s disease research centers focused on investigating experimental therapies to treat the disease. Nitsch is a professor in the Division of Psychiatry Research at the University of Zurich Neuroscience Center, Zurich, Switzerland. “Both Dr. Thal and Dr. Nitsch broke new scientific ground with their respective research into finding effective therapies to treat, and even prevent, Alzheimer’s disease,” said Roger R. Rosenberg, MD, member of the Potamkin Prize Committee and past President of the AAN. “Their work is proof that the fight against Alzheimer’s disease is well underway, and progress is being made.” Thal is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the development of therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. His pioneering clinical research work in the 1980s led to the development of the first approved drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that proved effective in slowing the decline of the disease in patients. Under Thal’s leadership, the ACDS has achieved significant progress both in developing new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and in advancing the methodology for conducting clinical research and testing. The ACDS was the first organization to identify Vitamin E as an effective therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. ACDS research also revealed that estrogen therapy was not effective for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in women. His current research interests include studying the potential therapeutic benefits of using nerve growth factor as a genetic therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. He also continues to oversee clinical drug trials for new and promising Alzheimer’s disease therapies through the ADCS. Nitsch’s research has helped revitalized hopes for a vaccination against Alzheimer’s disease. Following the halt of a major vaccination trial in 2002, there was serious concern within the neuroscientific community as to whether it was possible to develop an effective and safe vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease. Nitsch’s work in experimental immunotherapy has been key to keeping alive the hope that science can find an effective and safe vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease. His research produced groundbreaking evidence linking beta-amyloid deposits to the formation of plaque and fiber tangles in the brain, both of which are viewed as contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Working with an experimental vaccine, Nitsch subsequently demonstrated success in generating antibodies to help the brain defend itself against beta-amyloids. The net result was a significant slowing of the pace at which Alzheimer’s patients lose cognitive functions and their ability to handle daily living activities. The Potamkin Prize is made possible by the philanthropic contributions of the Potamkin family of New York, Philadelphia and Miami. The goal of the prize is to help attract the best medical minds and most dedicated scientists in the world to the field of dementia research.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world's largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with 34,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

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