The inaugural award went to Osama Al-Dalahmah, a neuropathology instructor in the department of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, whose research focuses on discovering ways to improve the brain’s ability to protect itself from the damage caused by Huntington’s, according to a press release.
Specially, Al-Dalahmah is studying the role that astrocytes — brain cells that support neuronal function — play in the disease’s progression.
“I believe that bringing astrocytes into the spotlight will open new therapeutic avenues for people with Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease changes astrocytes in several ways, some of which may be neuroprotective and beneficial for neurons,” Al-Dalahmah said.
“The Hereditary Disease Foundation — especially Dr. Nancy Wexler —makes my research possible and is the reason why I joined the ranks of Huntington’s disease researchers,” he added.
The Nancy S. Wexler Discovery Fund was established to honor the geneticist with a namesake award, and raised $350,000 in gifts and pledges to help young scientists specializing in Huntington’s.
Wexler, HDF president, led the international team of scientists that identified the gene that causes Huntington’s in 1993. She recently was diagnosed with this disease, she revealed in an interview published in March.
The foundation has provided more than $3 million in support of work into treatments for Huntington’s and other brain disorders over the past two years.
Each year, the fund’s scientific advisory board will present the Young Investigator Prize to a researcher whose work “reflects the highest caliber of excellence, diligence and creative thinking.”
“We are thrilled to present the first Nancy S. Wexler Young Investigator Prize to Dr. Osama Al-Dalahmah, whose brilliant work is bringing us closer to new therapies and potential cures for Huntington’s disease,” said Anne B. Young, chair of the scientific advisory board and vice chair of the HDF board of directors.
In addition to this award, donations made to the Wexler fund will support a variety of scientific collaborations, educational workshops and conferences.
Huntington’s disease occurs when a repeated stretch of DNA within the HTT gene results in an abnormal and toxic version of the huntingtin protein (mHTT). This leads to irreversible declines in the control of mood, memory, and movement.
“Nancy Wexler is celebrating her 75th birthday this year, and there is no more fitting way to honor her pioneering work, relentless dedication and enduring optimism than by establishing this fund in her name,” said Meghan Donaldson, CEO of the HDF. “We thank our contributors and friends for their support of our work, moving us toward the day when families will no longer have to face the terrible challenge of Huntington’s disease.”
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