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Pioneer in LRRK2 Biology, Dario Alessi, PhD, Awarded the Robert A. Pritzker Prize

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) awarded the 2023 Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research to Dario Alessi, PhD, at a ceremony on November 11 in New York City.  

Alessi, a biochemist, professor of signal transduction and director of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit at the School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, UK, was recognized for his pioneering research on the pathobiology of the LRRK2 mutation. LRRK2 is the most frequent cause of inherited Parkinson’s disease (PD). 

“Dr. Alessi has trailblazed areas of science that are key to our understanding of the genetics of Parkinson’s disease. His work provided a greater understanding of LRRK2 that is being leveraged in ongoing and future trials of therapies to inhibit LRRK2 and hopefully slow the progression of the disease,” said Shalini Padmanabhan, PhD, MJFF’s vice president, discovery and translational research, who presented the prize. Padmanabhan also highlighted Alessi’s commitment to open and collaborative science and generous mentorship to many trainees.  

Since LRRK2 gene mutations were first linked to PD risk in 2004, research in this area has accelerated rapidly. Today there are three potential LRRK2-targeted therapies in human clinical trials. A short video filmed at Alessi’s University of Dundee lab, features the prizewinner discussing how his work on LRRK2 has helped inform this therapeutic development. 

The Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research recognizes researchers for their contributions to PD research and commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson’s scientists. It was established in 2011 by Karen Pritzker and her late husband, Michael Vlock, and comes with a $200,000 research grant. The award is named for Karen’s father, a renowned industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist who lived with Parkinson’s. 

“It is an incredible honor to receive the Pritzker Prize. Having this award funding will be transformational to furthering our progress on Parkinson's research and moving us closer to finding treatments that cure the disease,” Alessi said. “It also helps us achieve a key goal in the lab: giving students and other researchers fantastic opportunities to learn about research and become leading experts in this field.” 

The awards ceremony took place during MJFF’s Fall 2023 Research Roundtable, which is held annually in conjunction with the Foundation’s annual gala later in the day. The research roundtable also included presentations from global pharma and biotech leaders and the Foundation’s scientific leadership about ongoing work to improve treatment for PD. 

The award, designed by renowned artist and Parkinson's patient Tom Shannon, is presented by the Foundation annually. Recent prior winners of the Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research included J. Timothy Greenamyre, MD, PhD, Glenda Margaret Halliday, PhD and Caroline Tanner, MD, PhD. A full list of award winners is found here.  

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