Alison Goate, DPhil, has been named director of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, a partnership between Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Hope Happens, a nonprofit foundation that supports research into neurodegenerative disorders.
David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology, announced the appointment, effective April 15.
“Alison Goate has been a pioneer in the use of genetic approaches to identify the underlying causes of neurological and psychiatric disorders,” Holtzman says. “That has proven to be a very productive way to seek the basic insights we need to enable new treatments and cures for disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).”
Holtzman also announced the appointment of Anneliese Schaefer, PhD, JD, research assistant professor of neurology, as executive director of the Hope Center.
Hope Happens, originally known as ALS Hope, was founded in 2002 by the late Chris Hobler and his family. Hobler was a St. Louis musician, ALS advocate and patient.
Since its inception in 2004, the Hope Center has been dedicated to learning why nerve cells become dysfunctional and degenerate and to finding ways to prevent such damage. Researchers believe that common mechanisms may lie at the heart of the damage caused by many neurodegenerative disorders, suggesting that discoveries in one disease can lead to cures and treatments in others.
“We have a great deal of work to do, but there’s also cause for optimism,” says Goate, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics and of neurology. “At this time, there are more clinical trials for new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders than ever before, and many of these new treatments had their origins in studies aimed at understanding the causes of the diseases, which is the type of research the Hope Center promotes.”
The Hope Center makes available core facilities and technical expertise that help facilitate research, provides funding for innovative approaches to understanding neurological disorders, recruits outstanding faculty and promotes collaboration across scientific disciplines and research institutions.
The center’s research is structured around four themes:
- the contribution of protein aggregation to neurodegenerative disorders;
- causes and prevention of the degeneration of axons, the branches that connect nerve cells;
- the role of mitochondria, structures that help power all cells but that are particularly important in nerve cells; and
- the role of genetic factors in promoting disease risk and influencing response to drug treatments.
“Our mission is to take basic science results, apply them to neurological diseases and translate those applications into better treatment,” Goate says.
Goate succeeds Mark P. Goldberg, MD, professor of neurology and of neurobiology and the center’s first director.
“We want to build on the work that Mark did over the last few years in bringing in support for Hope Center activities,” Goate says. “His accomplishments have put us in a position where the Hope Center can begin to realize many of the goals of our mission.”
Goate rose to international prominence as the principal investigator for two major studies involving genetic abnormalities linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In a 1989 study published in The Lancet and in a 1991 study published in Nature, she described the first genetic mutation that causes familial Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1992, Goate joined the Washington University faculty, where she has continued working on the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in collaboration with members of the Washington University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Hope Center. This collaborative work has led to the identification of mutations in five additional genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia or ALS. Since joining the faculty, she also has worked on the genetics of addiction.
Goate and longtime collaborator, Laura Bierut, MD, have reported evidence for a gene that influences risk for nicotine dependence and smoking-related disorders such as lung cancer.
Goate has been the recipient of several major prizes for her research, including the MetLife Award for Medical Research and the Potamkin Prize for research on Alzheimer’s disease from the American Academy of Neurology.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed 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 fourth 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.