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John Hardy, PhD, Leader in Parkinson’s Genetics Research, Honored with 2015 Robert A. Pritzker Prize

John Hardy, PhD, a pioneer in the study of Parkinson’s genetics, is the recipient of the 2015 Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research, conferred annually by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

An expert in Alzheimer’s genetics, as well, Hardy — now professor at UCL (University College London) — led a team toward a pathological discovery that revolutionized Parkinson’s drug development. Moreover, he is regarded as an influential thought leader in driving the exploration of genetics for a causal role in Parkinson’s disease, an area given little merit only 20 years ago.

In 2003 Dr. Hardy and colleagues published in Science that triplication of the alpha-synuclein (SNCA) gene caused Parkinson’s in a family with high incidence of the disease. This finding built on earlier reports of a point mutation in the SNCA gene associated with Parkinson’s and is the basis for disease-modifying treatments in development today that seek to lower levels of the protein alpha-synuclein, a promising approach to slow or stop Parkinson’s progression.

The Pritzker Prize has been awarded annually since 2011 by MJFF to recognize researchers who make an exceptional contribution to Parkinson’s research and exhibit a commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson’s scientists. Hardy will receive a $100,000 grant to advance his research in neurodegenerative diseases.

“Dr. Hardy’s innovation in the study of Parkinson’s genetics, amid a climate that was refuting such claims, has had great impact on PD drug development,” said Todd Sherer, PhD, CEO of MJFF. “His work uncovering causal Parkinson’s genes directed the field to potential therapeutic targets, some of which are already in clinical or advanced pre-clinical testing.”

Beyond his individual contributions, Dr. Hardy has seeded breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research through collaboration in large-scale consortia and mentorship of the next generation of Parkinson’s geneticists. Several researchers trained in his lab at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida have gone on to become today’s most prominent leaders in the genetics of brain disease, including MJFF Scientific Advisory Board Members Mark Cookson, PhD, and Andrew Singleton, PhD, both now senior investigators at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health; and Matthew Farrer, PhD, professor at the University of British Columbia.

“It is an honor to be recognized with the Pritzker Prize, especially from a patient-driven organization such as The Michael J. Fox Foundation,” said Dr. Hardy. “I’m proud that our discoveries have led to actionable insights, but I’m even more proud of the talented crop that has passed through my lab. Their work continues to unlock the mysteries of neurological disease.”

The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research is made possible by Karen Pritzker, daughter of Robert A. Pritzker, and her husband, investor Michael Vlock. Their gift provides a $100,000 grant to the Pritzker Prize recipient each year, and Pritzker and Vlock have been generous donors to MJFF.

The prize is named in honor of the late Robert A. Pritzker, a renowned industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Pritzker was founder of The Marmon Group and president of Colson Associates, Inc., holding companies for a variety of manufacturing and medical businesses. Additionally, he was an early promoter of the field of medical engineering at his alma mater, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, where he also played a key role in expanding the biomedical research community through his support of The Pritzker Institute for Biomedical Science and Engineering at IIT.

The MJFF Executive Scientific Advisory Board served as the jury panel. Selection criteria included: the nominee’s complete body of work in the PD field with an emphasis on its impact on accelerating drug development; field-wide impact of the nominee’s work; dedication to patient-relevant science; and influence on and encouragement of the next generation of PD investigators.

The award, designed by renowned artist and Parkinson’s patient Tom Shannon, was presented to Hardy by Michael J. Fox at a ceremony on April 15, 2014, in New York City.

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