Karen Duff receives prestigious prize for Alzheimer's research

Karen E.K. Duff, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, New York, and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, will receive the 2006 Potamkin Prize from the American Academy of Neurology. The prize recognizes outstanding research in Alzheimer's and related neurodegenerative brain diseases, and is considered one of the most prestigious in the field of Alzheimer's research. Dr. Duff is one of three recipients of the prize, which will be awarded April 4 in San Diego at the academy's annual meeting.

Dr. Duff is a young British scientist widely known for her innovative work in developing transgenic mouse "models" of age-related human brain diseases. Until recently, scientists couldn't pinpoint the role of defective genes in causing or contributing to the death of neurons in the brain. Dr. Duff devised a way to insert human disease-causing genes into mice, creating genetically engineered mice that can be used to understand the underlying mechanisms of disease, and to test potential treatments. Drug companies have used her models to test proprietary experimental therapies for Alzheimer's.

Early in her career Dr. Duff created the first mouse model of mutations in the gene called presenilin 1, a protein found in families with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She also bred transgenic mice carrying the presenilin mutation and the human gene for the plaque-forming protein amyloid beta, which litters the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These doubly transgenic mice develop abundant plaques in the brain.

Since moving to the Nathan Kline Institute almost eight years ago, Dr. Duff has coordinated extensive studies to examine how amyloid beta accumulation affects the brain. She also has used her transgenic mice to evaluate cholesterol's impact on Alzheimer's, and how drugs that lower cholesterol may be beneficial. Most recently, she has developed mouse models of the tangle-forming protein tau, which is also implicated in Alzheimer's. Dr. Duff recently received a multi-million dollar program grant from the National Institutes of Health to work on these mice with colleagues at NKI, NYU and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

"We are proud that Karen's work has been recognized by her colleagues and very pleased that NKI could provide the rich infrastructure to support her scientific work," says Jerome Levine, MD, interim director of the Nathan Kline Institute, an affiliate of NYU School of Medicine. "Her relative youth, coupled with her demonstrated intellect and dedication, have coalesced to solidify her position as one of the leading contributors in the field of Alzheimer's research today and in the future."

"The products of Karen's research represent scientific contributions that have continued to benefit the Alzheimer's community long after the impact of the initial discoveries was felt," says Ralph Nixon, MD, PhD, Director of the NKI Center for Dementia Research and Professor and Vice-Chairman of Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine.

"At a time when scientists were struggling to develop effective mouse models of Alzheimer's and to understand how newly discovered genes promote early onset of the disease, Karen genetically engineered mice that at once became a benchmark animal model of Alzheimer brain pathology," says Dr. Nixon. "These initial findings and the continued investigation of this mouse model in hundreds of laboratories and companies worldwide have subsequently propelled research and have aided in the testing of potential drug therapies."

"The impact of her work modeling Alzheimer's disease in transgenic mice has been significant not only for our understanding of basic pathobiology, but also for identifying key therapeutic approaches that have led to the initiation of several clinical trials," says John Hardy, Ph.D., a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, who along with Michael L. Hutton, Ph.D. of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, nominated Duff for the prize.

At NKI and NYU, Dr. Duff has mentored many postdoctoral students who are now working independently as Alzheimer's researchers. She is also a mother of two young daughters under the age of 3. "There couldn't be a more worthy winner of the Potamkin Prize, nor a better role model for women in science," says Hardy.


Located on the grounds of Rockland Psychiatric Center, The Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research is a facility of the New York State Office of Mental Health that is nationally and internationally renown for its pioneering contributions to psychiatric research. On the web: www.rfmh.org/nki

NYU School of Medicine is one of the nation's preeminent academic medical institutions. An integral part of NYU Medical Center and its affiliates, the School of Medicine has an abiding commitment to improving the human condition through medical education, scientific research, and patient care. On the web: www.med.nyu.edu


The Potamkin Prize is named after Luba Potamkin, a New York wife, mother and businesswoman who was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer's disease (later determined to be Pick's disease) in the mid-80s, and who died in 1994. During the 1970s, she was a well-known TV spokeswoman for the family's chain of auto dealerships. Recipients of the prize receive a $100,000 cash award.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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