The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, one of the largest independent funders of neurodegenerative disease research, announced Feb. 22 Dr. David M. Holtzman (the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and Chair of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis) and Dr. Celeste Karch (Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis) as this year’s recipients of the Rainwater Annual Prize for Outstanding Innovation in Neurodegenerative Research and the Rainwater Prize for Innovative Early-Career Scientist, respectively.
The Rainwater Prize Program recognizes scientific progress toward new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases associated with the accumulation of tau protein in the brain.
The Rainwater Prize Program fosters scientific discovery by enhancing awareness of the critical gaps in neurodegenerative research, bringing new researchers into the tauopathy field, and awarding scientific achievements that could lead to new, effective treatments, the foundation said in a news release announcing the awards.
The Rainwater Charitable Foundation was created in the early 1990s by renowned Fort Worth private equity investor and philanthropist Richard E. Rainwater, who died in 2015 after a long, debilitating battle with a rare and incurable brain disease called progressive supranuclear palsy.
The Rainwater Charitable Foundation Medical Research team manages the Tau Consortium – named after the protein that causes neurodegenerative diseases and is also a factor in Alzheimers – and the Rainwater Prize Program.
With more than $100 million invested to date, the Rainwater Foundation has helped to advance eight treatments into human trials.
Holtzman is recognized, in part, for his discoveries on how apoE4 – a protein involved in the metabolism of fats in the body – is involved in being a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. In recent work, his lab has shown that apoE plays an important role in brain damage caused by tau.
He has been involved in development of methods to measure protein levels and their synthesis and clearance in the central nervous system of animals and humans. Holtzman has been instrumental in the study of the bidirectional relationship and influence between sleep and neurogenerative diseases, and his lab has shown that increased wakefulness acutely increases extracellular brain tau and chronically increases pathological tau spreading.
“I want to share how thankful I am that the Rainwater Charitable Foundation decided to start this initiative,” Holtzman said in a news release. “I believe the investment they’ve made, not just financially, but in bringing people together, has had a substantial impact. It’s stimulated the field in a momentous way and brought many people together through this interesting intersection of research and advocacy.”
Karch is making significant strides in defining the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying tauopathies. Her research works to improve the understanding of how tau genetics influence tau biology and inform paths for therapeutic intervention. This study requires unraveling the complexities of MAPT (the gene that encodes the tau protein), tau protein dysfunction within the cell, and the interactions that produce pathology in the brain. “I am truly privileged with this incredible prize recognizing our fight against neurodegenerative disease,” Karch said. “This award speaks to the commitment of the Rainwater Prize Committee and the Rainwater family toward innovative science and collaboration. It also speaks to their contributions to bring researchers together and foster this highly supportive environment where if one person wins, we all win.”
The Prize Program promotes four main prize categories. The above Outstanding Innovation ($250,000) and Early-Career ($150,000) Prizes will be awarded at EuroTau 2021. The third prize, the Rainwater Milestone Prize for Advances in Tauopathy Research, will award up to $2 million for investigators whose work significantly contributes to the understanding of tau-related diseases – by addressing critical gaps in technology and disease knowledge – that will help the scientific community develop effective treatments.
The final and largest prize, the Rainwater Breakthrough Prize for Effective Treatments in Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), will award up to $10 million for FDA-approved treatments that extend good quality of life for patients, cure PSP early in progression, or prevent and/or reverse disease damage from PSP. The milestone and breakthrough category prizes will be awarded in the future upon achievement.
“My dad would have been incredibly proud to learn of the significant scientific contributions and discoveries of both Dr. Holtzman and Dr. Karch,” said Todd Rainwater, trustee at the Rainwater Charitable Foundation. “We are proud to recognize their efforts and dedication to tau research and their collaborative spirit in the research community.”
“The Rainwater Charitable Foundation is thrilled to honor Dr. Holtzman and Dr. Karch for their relentless efforts in the neurodegenerative disease field,” said Dr. Amy Rommel, Scientific Program Director for the Rainwater Charitable Foundation. “These researchers were chosen by a qualified committee of international scientific leaders of differing fields and backgrounds, and we are confident Dr. Holtzman and Dr. Karch’s research will pave the way for even more advancements in the study of tauopathies.”
Holtzman and Karch were nominated by peers and colleagues based on published and peer-reviewed research related to neurodegenerative disease. They were selected based on their research, leadership, mentorship, and positive impact within the scientific community.
Both winners are members of the Tau Consortium, a program – launched by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation in 2010 – that commissions world-class research and drug discovery with the goal to treat and prevent primary tauopathies like progressive supranuclear palsy, as well as secondary ones such as Alzheimer’s disease Rainwater Prizes are funded separately from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, with awardees nominated by a prize selection committee operating independently from the Tau Consortium program.
Holtzman and Karch will present their findings later this year at EuroTau 2021. Representatives from academia, industry, government, and philanthropy are encouraged to attend.