High distinction for Eckhard and Eva-Maria Mandelkow (Nov. 2009)

structure model

Eckhard and Eva-Maria Mandelkow with a structure model of the motor protein kinosin.

For their outstanding research on the causes for Alzheimer’s disease, the Max Planck scientists Eckhard and Eva-Maria Mandelkow were awarded the renowned “MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research” 2010. Both scientists and their team work on the DESY campus using the DORIS III accelerator beam to investigate the molecular causes of Alzheimer’s disease. “This distinction is an important international recognition of the outstanding work of Eckhard and Eva-Maria Mandelkow,” congratulates Helmut Dosch, chairman of the DESY Board of Directors, “and another proof of the very successful collaboration of DESY and the Max Planck Society, which will be extended in the future.”

The award from the US Metropolitan Life Insurance group that includes a prize money of 250 000 US dollars will be presented to the two scientists from Hamburg on 25 February 2010 during an official ceremony in Washington. The prize money will go into further Alzheimer research by the Max Planck working group.

More than one million people in Germany suffer from Alzheimer’s, the disease that destroys memory in the human brain. Scientists hope that by knowing the molecular causes of this so far incurable disease it will be possible to find new therapy approaches. For this purpose, they examine the characteristic plaques and tangles – deposits from deficient and function-free proteins that are formed in the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. The intense research of the Max Planck scientists focuses on the protein “Tau”. The Tau proteins regulate the composition and decomposition of microtubules, hollow cylindrical structures of the cytoskeleton.

In the nerve cells, the microtubules work as “rails” for motor proteins which are responsible for the transport in nerve fibres. The Tau proteins are the “sleepers” of these “rails”, i.e. they stabilise the microtubules. When they lose their function, the microtubules fall apart, which means that transport in the nerve cells collapses. This is exactly what happens in Alzheimer’s disease: the molecular structure of the Tau protein is altered, a lot of function-free “protein debris” is deposited in the nerve cells. As a consequence, the cells die.

The Mandelkow working group is studying these molecular proceedings. A number of proteins that take part in this pathological state have been structurally investigated with the help of DESY´s synchrotron radiation. In collaboration with the Hamburg university hospital UKE, the scientists have developed cell and mouse models which mimic Alzheimer’s disease,with the purpose of developing more effective therapies.

(...from DESY News, 2 November 2009)

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