New Alzheimer's Center backed by $2 million challenge grant

By Rachel Skei Donihoo / October-November 2010

A new Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases has been created at
UT Southwestern with a $2 million challenge grant. The center will be directed by renowned physician-scientist Dr. Joachim Herz. 

“This highly motivating gift was instrumental in founding our new center,” said Dr. Herz, professor of molecular genetics and neuroscience. “This gift — and others made by donors who continue to make this center a reality — will enable UT Southwestern to recruit and retain outstanding faculty to join our targeted efforts to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Without this kind of major support, it would be impossible to proceed at the pace necessary to meet the challenge posed by this debilitating and increasingly common disease.”

Dr. Joachim Herz

Dr. Herz is noted for his groundbreaking research into how a mutation in a single protein triggers the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5.3 million Americans and is the country’s seventh-leading cause of death. Dr. Herz’s most recent work focuses on the study of molecules called APOE receptors, which are embedded in the membranes of nerve cells. APOE receptors serve as “signal modulators,” making the cells more responsive to incoming signals from other nerve cells, or neurons. The receptors can greatly change the sensitivity of neurons over the course of a single day, affecting how strongly nerve cells interact with each other.

“Joachim Herz has played an extraordinary role in the progress
UT Southwestern has made as a pre-eminent medical center,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern.

“We are enormously grateful for this investment in our work, which will allow us to recruit, train and retain excellent young physicians who are committed to clinical care and research in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. This gift is a great tribute to our institution and to Dr. Herz.”

In 2007 Dr. Herz was awarded Germany’s highly respected Heinrich Wieland Prize for his research related to lipid and cholesterol regulation.

He was cited for his discovery of novel and essential functions of lipoprotein receptors in the transmission of signals between cells. His research team identified important signaling pathways that control not only critical steps during embryonic organ development, but also in the brain, where they are required for memory processes and for protecting nerve cells from premature death during aging.

In the course of their work, Dr. Herz and his lab members further identified a specific protein that plays a key role in determining whether fatty substances and cholesterol build up inside arteries. Accumulation of cholesterol in the walls of blood vessels is a leading cause of heart attacks and stroke.

Dr. Herz earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Heidelberg. He completed residencies in Germany and in the United Kingdom and joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 1989.

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Dr. Herz holds the Thomas O. and Cinda Hicks Family Distinguished Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease Research.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery Jr., M.D., Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

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