2022 Cure One, Cure Many $3M Award Goes to Mayo Clinic Researchers

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by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Winners of the 2022 edition of the $3 million Cure One, Cure Many Award for the early diagnosis of Lewy body dementia (LBD) have been announced by its promoter, the American Brain Foundation.

They are the Mayo Clinic’s Owen A. Ross, PhD, Pamela J. McLean, PhD, and Bradley F. Boeve, MD, who together will develop and validate a test to measure a biomarker found in blood. The test may be useful as a diagnostic tool to identify LBD regardless of whether a patient has initial or overt symptoms.

The award is part of the foundation’s Cure One, Cure Many program to support researchers who work toward finding a diagnosis, a treatment, or a cure across any of many areas of brain disease.

It was launched in honor of the late actor and comedian Robin Williams, who did not receive a diagnosis of LBD until after his death. His widow, Susan Schneider Williams, the foundation’s former board vice-chair, spearheaded the award.

“If we’d had a diagnosis while my late husband Robin Williams was alive, it could have been a game-changer, full stop. This disease can progress very quickly, and without accurate diagnosis, too much time is lost in the chase. That was our experience,” Schneider Williams said in a press release.

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Sponsors include the Alzheimer’s Association and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), and anyone can donate to the fund.

“This award to find a biomarker for LBD offers the hope that this will lead to an accurate method of diagnosing the disease and give patients and their loved ones clarity about the prognosis,” said Orly Avitzur, MD, president of the American Academy of Neurology, the foundation’s research partner.

“This will also allow researchers to better study LBD and develop effective therapies,” Avitzur said.

LBD is a common form of dementia, second only to Alzheimer’s disease. It occurs when protein deposits called Lewy bodies build up in nerve cells in regions of the brain involved in thinking, memory, and movement.

Lewy bodies also cause Parkinson’s disease. This means that research into LBD could have implications for other types of brain disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“The American Brain Foundation promotes and invests in research across the whole spectrum of brain diseases and disorders in the belief that when we find a cure for one brain disease, we will find cures for many. Our holistic approach focuses on building bridges between different brain diseases to break new ground in both research and application,” said Jane Ransom, the foundation’s executive director.

People with LBD experience a progressive loss of mental function that may manifest as visual hallucinations, changes in alertness and attention, or difficulty in moving that is similar to that seen in Parkinson’s disease.

Its diagnosis is based on symptoms and the results of imaging tests, but can be confirmed only when a sample of brain tissue is removed after death during an autopsy and examined under a microscope to look for signs of the disease.

“As a result of a delay in diagnosis and misdiagnosis, people with LBD and their caregivers endure daily challenges and uncertainty,” the program’s webpage states.

“There is an urgent need for simple, inexpensive, non-invasive, and easily available diagnostic tools for LBD, such as a blood test,” said Heather Snyder, PhD, vice-president of medical and scientific relations of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Uncovering markers that distinguish one dementia from another will ultimately lead to a more accurate diagnosis and can help people living with the disease get the specific care and support they need,” Snyder said.

The Mayo Clinic researchers will be joined by Sid O’Bryant, PhD, director of the Institute for Translational Research at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, and David Issadore, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Issadore is the founder of Chip Diagnostics, a medical diagnostics company.

The data derived from the award-sponsored studies will be combined with clinical, imaging, and pathologic data available to the researchers. Machine learning — a form of artificial intelligence that allows a computer to learn from data — will be used to develop the diagnostic test.

“We have taken a coordinated team approach to the development, validation, and acceleration of [LBD]-related biomarkers and believe an early and accurate diagnosis is critical to tackling this disease,” said Ross, who will lead the team.

Ross and the other scientists will speak about their research and what it means for people with LBD during a free webinar on Monday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. ET. Those interested can register for the webinar here. 

“Cures for brain diseases such as LBD and Parkinson’s will come only from collaboration. Biology and clinical experience cross diagnostic lines, and the outcome of this awarded project will have impact in broader research,” said Jamie Eberling, PhD, senior vice-president of research resources at the MJFF.