Mayo Clinic Neurologist Wins International Award
Mayo Clinic neurologist Zbignew Wszolek, M.D., was presented the 2005 Annemarie Opprecht - Foundation Award at a ceremony Oct. 28 in St. Gallen, Switzerland, at the joint meeting of the Swiss Neurological and Swiss Neurosurgical Societies. Wszolek shared the award with Stanley Fahn, M.D., of Columbia University in New York. The award is given to promote medical and medical related research in the field of Parkinson's disease on an international level. Papers presenting significant results or findings in all areas of research in the field of Parkinson's disease are considered when giving the award.
According to M. Sturzenegger, M.D., president of the Prize Committee of the Annemarie Opprecht - Foundation, Wszolek was given the award not only because of his submitted paper, but also because of "his pioneering work in the search for the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease for a number of years."
"I am very grateful to all family members who participated in this research and to all my colleagues and collaborators from Austria, Canada, Gera number of and the United States who worked tirelessly on this study," Wszolek says. He has given his share of the prize money, 50,000 Swiss francs, to Mayo Clinic for further studies on families with parkinsonism.
Wszolek's submitted paper, "Mutations in LRRK2 cause autosomal-dominant parkinsonism with pleomorphic pathology," was published in the November 2004 issue of the journal Neuron. Wszolek and colleagues reported that a mutation in the gene named LRRK2 plays a central role in developing pathology characteristic of Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
For the past 15 years, Wszolek has studied two of the six families in which a LRRK2 mutation was reported, "The discovery of this gene will have major implications for the understanding of mechanisms leading to the development of these neurodegenerative diseases," he says. "We also hope that continued study of this gene will lead to curative treatments for Parkinson's disease and other similar conditions."
Wszolek began his research on genetics of Parkinson's disease and related conditions at a time when the research was dominated by the search for causative environmental factors. In 1987 he examined a patient diagnosed with Parkinson's disease who reported a number of family members suffered from a similar condition. This strong family history stimulated Wszolek's interest in genetics. He went on to expand the patient's family tree to more than 300 members and to trace the origin of the family to colonial Virginia. This kindred, named the PPND Family, contributed significantly to the understanding of a then newly defined disorder known as frontotemporal dementia and parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17. Over the years, Wszolek has traveled extensively across the United States and Canada to meet with and examine patients and family members to expand other parkisonian kindreds whose genetics have yielded advances in understanding the genetics of Parkinson's disease and related disorders.
The Annemarie Opprecht - Foundation was established in 1998 and sponsored by Annemarie Opprecht, a Swiss philanthropist. The Foundation has previously presented its award, in the amount of 100,000 Swiss francs, in 1999 and 2002.