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Dr. Donald Weaver of UHN's Krembil Research Institute has been named a recipient of the 2022 Oskar Fischer Prize – the first Canadian to receive the prestigious award for Alzheimer's research.
The award is provided annually by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Colleges of Sciences to recognize the world's brightest minds in Alzheimer's disease research – those who are exploring innovative ideas about the causes of the disease to guide new research and treatments.
Dr. Weaver was among 10 recipients named Wednesday and is one of two silver-level awardees for his theory of Alzheimer's disease as an autoimmune disorder.
The new theory proposed by Dr. Weaver brings together studies in systems biology, molecular modelling, biochemistry and neuroscience, to devise a comprehensive mechanistic model that suggests that Alzheimer's disease is a disorder of innate immunity regulated by amino acid metabolic pathways.
His research supporting this theory includes a recent publication in the journal
Alzheimer's Association, entitled "Alzheimer's disease as an autoimmune disorder of innate immunity endogenously modulated by tryptophan metabolites."
"We don't think of Alzheimer's as fundamentally a disease of the brain. We think of it as a disease of the immune system within the brain," says Dr. Weaver, noting that current theories of what causes Alzheimer's centre around the idea of a protein, beta-amyloid, clumping up and essentially "clogging" the brain. Dr. Weaver's theory looks at beta-amyloid differently.
"In the past, it was always thought that beta-amyloid was abnormal, that it wasn't supposed to be there," he says. "But we think that beta-amyloid is right where it should be.
"It's an immunopeptide – a messenger within our immune system. So that, if we get repetitive head trauma, beta-amyloid is there to help us repair it. Or, if a virus or bacteria comes along, beta-amyloid is there to fight it.
"We now believe that beta-amyloid gets confused and can't tell the difference between bacteria and a brain cell. And so it accidentally attacks our own brain cells. This then becomes what we call an autoimmune disease."
Dr. Weaver will be presented the award later this month in San Antonio, Texas.
More about The Oskar Fischer Prize
Dr. Weaver is among 10 individuals who were selected to receive gold, silver and bronze prizes for their papers that synthesize the breadth of Alzheimer's disease research to-date. Winners were selected by an interdisciplinary committee of advisors and announced Wednesday.
These winners brought forth 10 distinct, innovative ideas that look beyond the prevailing theories of Alzheimer's disease and could direct future research and treatments. Some of the categories that emerged include autophagy, lysosome and mitochondria; Apolipoprotein E and excitation; neural stem cells; and the immune system.
Learn more about this year's award recipients and their winning explanations on the
UTSA award website.