Randall J. Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been awarded the Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s, and Related Diseases. He will receive the award May 6 at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.
Sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of Alzheimer’s research, the Potamkin Prize is an internationally recognized tribute to researchers who have made major contributions to the understanding of the causes of Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and who have advanced efforts to prevent, treat and cure such diseases.
“I am honored and humbled to receive the Potamkin Prize,” Bateman said. “Generations of investigators have laid the groundwork for so much of what we now understand about Alzheimer’s disease, enabling us to now detect it with simple blood tests and attempt to prevent the disease from causing brain damage. The years of participation and volunteering by patients and family members have provided key insights into how Alzheimer’s disease begins and progresses, enabling us to now attempt to slow or even stop the disease.”
Bateman has spent more than two decades studying Alzheimer’s at the laboratory bench and the bedside. He created a highly precise blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages by measuring levels of the protein amyloid beta. Plaques of amyloid beta begin to collect in the brain 15 to 20 years before symptoms arise and play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s. While it is not yet available for clinical use, a blood test for amyloid would be less expensive and easier to administer than the current methods of detecting the protein: a PET scan of the brain or a spinal tap to detect amyloid in the spinal fluid.
Bateman also directs the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN), an international research partnership focused on understanding rare forms of Alzheimer’s disease caused by gene mutations. People who inherit such mutations are all but guaranteed to develop Alzheimer’s at a young age, in their 50s, 40s or even 30s. Originally led by John Morris, MD, the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology, DIAN has provided crucial insight into the molecular and cellular changes that occur in the brain up to two decades before people start showing signs of forgetfulness and confusion. Morris received the Potamkin Prize in 2005.
In 2012, Bateman created the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network-Trials Unit (DIAN-TU) platform trial, the first clinical trial to test whether drug treatments prior to dementia can prevent Alzheimer’s, and the first trial in dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease. The DIAN-TU includes participants from DIAN families and other families with dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s, and builds on the findings of earlier studies to evaluate drugs designed to disrupt the accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain. If the drugs are effective, they not only will help people with rare genetic forms of the disease but also will aid efforts to find therapies for patients with more common forms of Alzheimer’s that strike later in life. In addition, the DIAN-TU Trial Platform is a model for other neurological diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Down syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.
Bateman also pioneered a technology that lets scientists monitor the brain’s production and clearance of important proteins. This technique, known as stable isotope-linked kinetics (SILK), was developed with colleagues including David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology. Scientists have used SILK to show that clearance of the sticky protein amyloid beta is impaired in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The technology has helped scientists assess the effectiveness of experimental Alzheimer’s treatments.