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Dr Michel Goedert wins $250,000 Rainwater Prize for neurodegenerative disease research at MRC LMB

Dr Michel Goedert, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, has been awarded the first Rainwater Prize for Outstanding Innovation in Neurodegenerative Research.

The $250,000 prize recognised his work to establish that the abnormal assembly of tau protein is central to a large number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

Michel Goedert from the MRC LMB’s Neurobiology Division for Science piece, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology . Picture: Keith Heppell. (20253639)
Michel Goedert from the MRC LMB’s Neurobiology Division for Science piece, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology . Picture: Keith Heppell. (20253639)

In earlier work, Dr Goedert showed that tau is an integral component in the paired helical filaments found in Alzheimer's disease and discovered the six tau variants, known as isoforms, are expressed in the human brain.

He has since showed that while tau is present in all our brains, when it behaves abnormally it can assemble into clusters of filaments and becomes insoluble.

A pathological pathway leading from soluble to insoluble filamentous tau is believed to cause neurodegeneration.

With colleagues, he has identified one of the first mutations in MAPT - the gene that encodes tau and causes inherited frontotemporal dementia in humans.

“The Rainwater Prize recognises our work on the role of tau protein in a number of human neurodegenerative diseases that began at the LMB more than 30 years ago. This work would not have been possible without the long-term support from the MRC,” said Dr Goedert, who also shared the Brain Prize in 2018 and in July was awarded the Royal Society’s 2019 Royal Medal for Biological Sciences.

Dr Goedert told the Cambridge Independent that the funding would help fund ongoing work on the mechanisms underlying the assembly, propagation and toxicity of tau protein.

Dr Michel Goedert. Picture: MRC LMB (20253349)
Dr Michel Goedert. Picture: MRC LMB (20253349)

“It is an honor to be recognized by a group of experts who understand the critical role played by the tau protein in many neurodegenerative diseases,” he added. “With this prize, my goal is to encourage other researchers to join us in further exploring the root causes of these diseases and eventually to partner in developing novel methods for prevention of disease.”

Meanwhile, the inaugural Rainwater Prize for Innovative Early-Career Scientists was awarded to genome engineer Dr Patrick Hsu of the University of California, Berkeley, who plans to expand the capabilities of RNA-based CRISPR systems and study genetic defects that lead to neurodegenerative risk.

The Rainwater Prize programme was launched in November 2018 to promote progress toward new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases related to the accumulation of tau protein in the brain.

The programme is managed by the Rainwater Foundation, which was created in the 1990s by investor and philanthropist Richard E Rainwater. The foundation also manages the Tau Consortium, which has invested nearly $100million to date, helping to advance eight treatments into human trials.

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