John C. Morris receives the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s research

The American Academy of Neurology has awarded the 2005 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases to John C. Morris, M.D., the Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The annual prize honors scientists for outstanding contributions to the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. It is regarded as the most prestigious prize in Alzheimer’s research. Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine also was awarded the prize this year.

Morris and Petersen were recognized for their pioneering efforts in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Among other accomplishments, Morris’ research team refined the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) system, which was first developed by the founding director of the ADRC, Leonard Berg, M.D., professor emeritus of neurology. The CDR now is the standard clinical measure for staging of dementia. Morris’ studies have helped clinicians better distinguish between the normal effects of aging on memory and the earliest clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The impetus to find ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier stems from a growing awareness of the extent of Alzheimer’s brain damage prior to clinical symptoms. Morris, Joseph L. Price, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and others at the ADRC contributed significantly to this awareness through a series of studies that revealed widespread brain damage in patients only recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“Our studies illustrate why I accept individual prizes on behalf of the entire ADRC, because they truly represent the group effort of many wonderful colleagues,” says Morris.

Morris is the third researcher affiliated with the Washington University ADRC to receive the Potamkin prize. Previous Washington University recipients are Alison M. Goate, D. Phil., the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Genetics in Psychiatry, professor of genetics and of neurology; and David M. Holtzman, M.D., the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and Charlotte and Paul Hagemann Professor and head of the Department of Neurology.

According to Morris, this record reflects the extraordinary nature of the ADRC, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

“First, it indicates that we have a very talented, productive and innovative group of investigators,” he says. “Second, these awards reflect the environment in which we work, in terms of our terrific staff and the dedicated volunteers who participate in our studies.”

With current studies using new brain-imaging agents and other advanced techniques, Morris and his colleagues soon hope to be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease well before the onset of symptoms.

“In the past 10 years, five drugs have been approved by the FDA for treatment of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” Morris says. “In the next 10 years, I predict that we’ll be evaluating interventions that not only help the symptoms but also target the underlying factors that cause illness. These treatments will have their optimal benefit when they are introduced at the earliest possible stage of Alzheimer’s, perhaps even offering hope of preventing the disorder.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.