Miller School Geneticist Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award

A leading geneticist at the Miller School has been honored for her extraordinary lifelong contribution to Alzheimer’s disease research at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris.

The 2011 Alzheimer’s Association Bengt Winblad Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Professor of Human Genomics, during a ceremony at the opening of the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual meeting on July 17.

“I am truly honored and humbled that the Alzheimer’s Association has chosen me for this award,” Dr. Pericak-Vance said. “The Alzheimer’s Association has played a pivotal role in supporting efforts to find new ways to treat and prevent this devastating disorder. I feel privileged to have played a part.”

For more than two decades, Dr. Pericak-Vance has played a major role in advancing the understanding of the genetics contributing to Alzheimer’s. She was instrumental in finding the first genetic evidence for Alzheimer’s in the 1990s. Now, she co-leads the analysis team for the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium, which is creating a definitive map of the Alzheimer’s genetic landscape. Earlier this year, the group published findings in Nature Genetics identifying four new genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

“What we know about Alzheimer’s has greatly expanded in the last several years across the research spectrum – including insight into genetics, early detection, risk factors, treatment, and prevention,” said William Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “This year’s award winners are true leaders in the field who have made tremendous contributions to the strides made in Alzheimer’s research. Their work and expertise has helped to shape the ever-evolving Alzheimer’s landscape.”

Dr. Pericak-Vance’s greatest contribution is identifying the genetic variants for common and etiologically complex diseases. Her research group’s seminal 1993 paper (she was the lead author) describing the genetic role of APOE in Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most-cited papers in biomedical research. Beyond Alzheimer’s, her work has further dissected the genetic etiology of multiple sclerosis, autism, and age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Dr. Pericak-Vance is internationally recognized by her peers as a leader in human genetics research. In 1997, Newsweek magazine named Dr. Pericak-Vance to the “Century Club: 100 People to Watch as We Move to the Next Millennium.” In 2001, she received the international “Louis D” Scientific Prize from the Institut de France’s Academie des Sciences for her Alzheimer’s research. In 2003, she was named a Hauptman-Woodward Pioneer of Science.

“This is well deserved recognition for an individual who has made such extraordinary contributions to the field of human genetics and Alzheimer,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Her discoveries have been milestones in our understanding of genetic susceptibility for common illnesses.”

Dr. Pericak-Vance was elected to the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2004. In 2011, she was honored with the Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity at the University of Miami.

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