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U Neurologist Receives Seven-Year Research Grant Towards Neurodegenerative Diseases

A University of Utah neurology professor has received a more than $3.5 million Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award to further his research into neurodegenerative diseases. Stefan-M. Pulst, M.D., has been awarded a seven-year research grant. He is among a handful of Utah scientists to receive the award since it began in 1983.

Awardees cannot apply for the grants, but are nominated by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke staff and the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council. Winners must have a “history of exceptional performance,” according to the NIH website.

Pulst specializes in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and degenerative ataxias. His lab studies abnormal pathways in cerebellar nerve cells using genetically engineered mice.

“It recognizes this work as being at the cutting edge of neuroscience,” said Pulst of the award. “[Seven years] is an enormous time span that allows us to be a bit more innovative and risk taking.”

The awards are named after former U.S. Senator Jacob Javits who suffered from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and advocated for brain and nervous system research. The grant begins with four years, but may be extended for three more years after a review.

Pulst said his ultimate goal is to use gene-targeted therapies to stop degenerative diseases’ progression. The Javits award will allow him to keep more Utah staff employed and make faster progress in combating these diseases.

“We are facing  an  epidemic of neurodegenerative disease owing to  the aging population,” the professor said. “And this research will help us understand the process leading to nerve cell death in a very novel way.”

Utah’s older population is projected to grow disproportionately compared to other states, one of the reasons the state is expected to have one of the largest Alzheimer’s populations in the nation.

“For all these neurodegenerative diseases, the major risk factor is age,” Pulst said.

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