Gladstone investigator Steve Finkbeiner wins prestigious Lieberman Award

The Hereditary Disease Foundation has named Steven Finkbeiner, MD, PhD, an assistant investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and assistant professor of neurology and physiology at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as the recipient of its highly esteemed Lieberman Award.

The annual honor, featuring $150,000 in research funding over two years, is designed to encourage innovative proposals leading to the treatment and cure of Huntington's disease, as well as to honor prior work in the field. It is widely considered to be among the most prestigious awards honoring breakthrough research into the devastating illness.

Finkbeiner was recognized for resolving a mystery associated with Huntington's disease, using a robotic microscope that he custom-designed to allow the tracking of changes in cells, including those associated with neurodegeneration, over long lengths of time. As reported in a Nature cover story last fall (October 14, 2004), Finkbeiner and his team determined that abnormal deposits of mutant huntingtin protein, which appear in the brains of all Huntington's disease patients, are not the cause of neuronal death, but rather are a beneficial coping response on the part of distressed cells. The finding suggests that mutant huntingtin protein inflicts its damage in some form other than as abnormal deposits.

The new funding will enable Finkbeiner and his team to build on these findings. He will use the microscope to elucidate which forms of mutant huntingtin are most poisonous. Identifying these toxic forms could reveal how mutant huntingtin causes degeneration, and could lead to specific therapies that block it.

"Dr. Finkbeiner is an immensely imaginative scientist who not only is asking the right questions but also is incredibly inventive in creating software and hardware to answer them," says Hereditary Disease Foundation President Nancy Wexler, a Columbia University Medical Center neuropsychol

Contact: John Watson
University of California - San Francisco

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