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Young investigators receive the Boehringer Ingelheim APOPIS awards 2006 for studies on neurodegenerative diseases


Latest results of the EU-funded APOPIS Integrated Project presented

Ingelheim/Germany, Madrid/Spain, 25 July 2006 – The Boehringer Ingelheim APOPIS Awards for Young Researchers were presented for the second time last Saturday at a satellite symposium prior to the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ICAD 2006) in Madrid, Spain. The award honours young scientists for their efforts in investigating abnormal protein aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases carried out under the APOPIS research project1 (“Abnormal proteins in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases”), which is funded by the European Union (EU) within its 6th Framework Programme (FP6).

Regina Fluhrer from the University of Munich, Germany, was awarded with a € 5’000-prize for outstanding achievements obtained by a single research group. The second award, worth € 10’000 for a collaborative project within the consortium, was awarded to Julie van der Zee, Ilse Gijselinck, Samir Kumar-Singh and Marc Cruts working in the laboratory of Christine van Broeckhoven at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and Isabelle Le Ber from the laboratory of Alexis Brice at the Institut Nationale de la Santé et de la Récherche Médicale in Paris, France. “Besides supporting individual young investigators, we also wanted the APOPIS awards to acknowledge truly collaborative research efforts within the consortium”, says Bernd Sommer, Vice President of CNS Research at Boehringer Ingelheim, the company sponsoring the award.

Regina Fluhrer received the prize for new insights into basic mechanisms relevant in Alzheimer’s disease. She discovered a common cleavage mechanism for intra-membrane proteolysis, that is, the cleaving of transmembrane proteins at the region embedded within the cell membrane. Strikingly, the enzyme involved in Alzheimer’s disease, the so called γ-secretase, and a recently discovered protease called SPPL2b appear to cleave membrane proteins, albeit different ones, in exactly the same way. By better understanding the way theses enzymes degrade their substrates, it may one day be possible to develop specific inhibitors, which would prevent – in the case of γ-secretase – the formation of Beta-Amyloid, the major component of so-called senile plaques, one of the invariant hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The French-Belgian team led by Brice and van Broeckhoven was honoured for shedding light on the genetic causes of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common dementia in people younger than 65. Mutations in a gene, only recently discovered by the van Broeckhoven team, were found to be the single most frequent cause for FTD in a group of 103 Belgian and 208 French FTD patients, accounting for more than 10% of all FTD cases and for more than 25% of familial FTD cases.

“While the discovery of the Munich-based research group proves the existence of a hitherto unknown biological principle, the genetic studies of the research groups in Antwerp and Paris will pave the way for new investigations that may ultimately help to better understand the pathogenesis of FTD – a prerequisite for prevention and/or therapy”, says VERUM Foundation’s Franz Adlkofer, the organizer and coordinator of the APOPIS project. With only another six months to go before APOPIS will officially come to an end, Adlkofer says the project lived up to its ambitious expectations. “We have made tremendous progress in understanding the pathological mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases – and we will continue to do so in the coming months”, he says, admitting, however, that the “ultimate goal – a therapy, let alone a cure – is still some way down the road.”

The symposium also demonstrated another success of the APOPIS endeavour: the closing – or at least narrowing – of the gender gap in science. About half of the speakers at the satellite symposium were women – as were both awardees. “I am really impressed by the woman power within our consortium”, said Christian Haass, one of the principal investigators at the award ceremony.

Notes to the Editor:
APOPIS is a three year integrated research project supported by the European Union with 9 Mio Euro and the Swiss Government with another 2 Mio Euro.

It represents a unique international collaboration in the field of neurodegenerative diseases comprising 39 research groups from 32 European institutions in 12 countries. The project was kicked-off in January 2004 and will run until December 2006. Its goal is to elucidate the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer`s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington`s disease, motor neuron and prion diseases (mad cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) and develop methods for the early diagnosis and therapy of those diseases.

About Boehringer Ingelheim:
The Boehringer Ingelheim group is one of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies. Headquartered in Ingelheim, Germany, it operates globally with 143 affiliates in 47 countries and more than 37 000 employees. Since it was founded in 1885, the family-owned company has been committed to researching, developing, manufacturing and marketing novel products of high therapeutic value for human and veterinary medicine. In 2003, Boehringer Ingelheim posted net sales of € 9.5 billion while spending about one fifth of net sales in its largest business segment Prescription Medicines on research and development. Research and development are conducted in several R&D centres worldwide. One of the therapeutic areas focuses on diseases of the central nervous system.

About VERUM:
VERUM - Foundation for Behaviour and Environment, based in Munich, Germany, is a non-profit scientific organisation that promotes research into the effects of behaviour and the environment on human health. Projects supported and/or managed by VERUM are aimed at investigating the physiological and pathological processes of ageing at molecular, cellular and functional levels. VERUM is dedicated to further scientific knowledge in these areas and to create a sound basis for preventive medical measures. Since 1992 VERUM has supported numerous research projects of this kind and organized, coordinated and managed two projects funded by the EU Commission within the 5th Framework Programs (FP5) – REFLEX and DIADEM - and now APOPIS within FP6.

About the EU’s 6th Framework Program (FP6):
At the Lisbon summit in March 2000, EU governments called for a better use of European research efforts through the creation of an internal market for science and technology – a ‘European Research Area’ (ERA). The 6th Framework Program, FP6, running from 2003 until 2006, is the financial instrument to help make the ERA a reality. With an overall budget of € 17.5 billion FP6 is the world’s largest science funding program.


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