NEW YORK (November 12, 2018) -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) awarded the 2018 Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research to Virginia Man-Yee Lee, PhD, John H. Ware 3rd Endowed Professor in Alzheimer's Research in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The Prize recognizes researchers who make exceptional contributions to Parkinson's research and are committed to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson's scientists. Lee is the first female researcher to be selected for the Pritzker Prize.
"Dr. Lee's discoveries have marked milestones in our understanding of how Parkinson's originates and progresses and paved the way for new treatment strategies," said MJFF CEO Todd Sherer, PhD. "She is a leader in the study of neurodegenerative diseases and has helped mentor the next generation of neuroscientists. Her research could ultimately lead to breakthroughs for the millions who live with Parkinson's disease."
Sherer and Michael J. Fox presented the prize to Lee at a Foundation event in New York City on November 10, 2018.
Lee, a biochemist, began investigating misfolded proteins that accumulate in the brains of people with neurodegenerative disease in the 1990s. In 1997, she and her colleagues identified alpha-synuclein protein as the key component of Lewy bodies, the hallmark protein clumps found in people with Parkinson's disease. Her laboratory later provided the first proof that misfolded alpha-synuclein molecules act as seeds, triggering proteins to clump together. Later, using a new preclinical model of Parkinson's, she showed that these seeds travel from cell to cell propagating pathological alpha-synuclein, leading to disease progression, loss of dopamine and movement difficulties. This finding added weight to a leading hypothesis that misfolded proteins are transmitted through the nervous system, contributing to Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Lee continues to study subtypes of alpha-synuclein; this research is aimed at explaining the diversity of clinical symptoms of Parkinson's and the relationship of Parkinson's to diseases such as multiple system atrophy and Alzheimer's. She also is a partner in MJFF's flagship Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative, helping to develop and test ways to measure biomarkers in people with Parkinson's.
The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research, awarded annually by MJFF since 2011, was established by Karen Pritzker, daughter of Robert A. Pritzker, and her late husband, investor Michael Vlock. Their gift provides a $100,000 research grant to the Pritzker Prize winner each year, and Pritzker and Vlock have been generous donors to MJFF.
"I'm very proud to be the recipient of the 2018 Robert A. Pritzker Prize. And even prouder to be the first female to receive this honor," says Lee. "Some of the most distinguished people in Parkinson's research have received this prize, so I am honored to be among them." Lee says the grant will allow her "to think out of the box, and do some creative science. Hopefully that will make a difference for Parkinson's disease patients."
About the Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research
The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research 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 Scientific Advisory Board serves as the jury panel. Selection criteria include 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 itself is designed by renowned artist and Parkinson's patient Tom Shannon.
About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
As the world's largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to accelerating a cure for Parkinson's disease and improved therapies for those living with the condition today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson's patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers. In addition to funding more than $800 million in research to date, the Foundation has fundamentally altered the trajectory of progress toward a cure. Operating at the hub of worldwide Parkinson's research, the Foundation forges groundbreaking collaborations with industry leaders, academic scientists and government research funders; increases the flow of participants into Parkinson's disease clinical trials with its online tool, Fox Trial Finder; promotes Parkinson's awareness through high-profile advocacy, events and outreach; and coordinates the grassroots involvement of thousands of Team Fox members around the world.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation