School of Medicine

Rainwater Charitable Foundation Announces Second-Annual Rainwater Prize Winners for Brain Research

Dr. David Holtzman (WashU Neurology) and Dr. Celeste Karch (WashU Psychiatry)

The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, one of the largest independent funders of neurodegenerative disease research, today announced 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.

Dr. Holtzman, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and Chair of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 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. Dr. 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,” said Dr. Holtzman. “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.”

Dr. Karch, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 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,” said Dr. Karch. “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.”

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