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Perlmutter receives Spirit of Hope Award

Recognized for advocacy of basic research

by Tamara BhandariMay 6, 2019

Matt Miller

David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and the George and Carol Bauer Dean of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received the Christopher Hobler Spirit of Hope Award in recognition of his advocacy for neurological research. The award was presented April 25 by the nonprofit organization Hope Happens.

The nonprofit is dedicated to improving the lives of people with neurodegenerative disorders by promoting collaborative, translational research with the potential to fast-track cures. In 2004, Hope Happens teamed up with the School of Medicine to open the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, a basic science research center dedicated to finding cures for debilitating nervous system diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Perlmutter, also the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor, has long promoted basic science research. His success in growing financial support for biomedical research has helped advance efforts at the School of Medicine and the Hope Center to find root causes of neurological diseases.

Perlmutter is recognized for his work on alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (ATD), a genetic disorder that causes liver damage. His research led to advances in understanding how cells dispose of misfolded proteins that are toxic and cause cellular dysfunction. This process, known as autophagy, turned out to be critical for the functioning of all cells. A decline in autophagy has been linked to degenerative disease in many organs – and is a key feature of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS.

His work contributed to the development of novel drug strategies that stimulate autophagy for treatment of ATD. One such drug is being evaluated in a clinical trial. Because the decline in autophagy function during aging has been linked to degenerative diseases in many organs, drugs targeting the process represent exciting candidates for prevention of cognitive decline and other degenerative diseases.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Tamara covers pathology & immunology, medical microbiology, infectious diseases, cell biology, neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery and radiology. She holds a double bachelor's degree in molecular biophysics & biochemistry and in sociology from Yale University, a master's in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in biomedical science from the University of California, San Diego. Tamara worked in research labs for about a decade before switching to science writing. She joined WashU Medicine Marketing & Communications in 2016. She has received two Robert G. Fenley writing awards from the American Association of Medical Colleges. In 2020, she won a bronze for "Mind’s quality control center found in long-ignored brain area" and in 2022 a silver for "Mice with hallucination-like behaviors reveal insight into psychotic illness."