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Thomas Gasser: Breaking the Wall of Parkinson

Thomas Gasser

Neuroscientist Thomas Gasser was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science in September 2023 for his groundbreaking research into genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s disease. He has been head of clinical research at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Tübingen since 2013.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences has been awarded annually since 2013 by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which was founded by internet and tech companies from Silicon Valley, to researchers from the fields of life sciences and medicine.

Thomas Gasser was born on June 23, 1958, in Stuttgart in Southern Germany. He began to study medicine in Freiburg in 1977. As he was attracted to scientific research early on, he interrupted his medical studies to spend 18 months with a stipend of the German Scholarship Foundation in a laboratory at the Dept. of Pharmacology at Yale University, where he worked on cancer chemotherapies. He graduated from the University of Freiburg in 1985 and decided to focus on neurology and neuroscience. During his post-graduate training in neurology, which he conducted at the University of Munich, he also spent 2 years as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Xandra Breakefield at the Neuroscience Center of the Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School in 1991/92, where he began to work on the genetic analysis of inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease. After his return to Munich, he started his own research group in neurogenetics research group. In 2002 he accepted a professorship at the University of Tübingen’s Hertie-Institute for Clinical Brain Research as head of the Department of Neurology and Neurodegenerative Diseases and in 2009 he became Coordinator of Clinical Studies at the Tübingen site of the then newly founded German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases.
At that time, Parkinson’s disease was generally not considered to be a genetic disease. His work, along with that the co-recipients of the 2024 Breakthrough Award, Ellen Sidransky (National Human Genome Research Institute) and Andrew Singleton (National Institute on Aging) however uncovered key genetic risk factors for the disease (namely, the GBA1 and LRRK2 genes). Their discoveries contributed to a paradigm shift in Parkinson’s disease, which, like cancer, is now understood to be heterogeneous group of diseases fed by multiple genetic pathways. This paradigm shift has stimulated investigation into novel and highly-targeted therapeutics that (beyond symptom relief) could potentially stop disease progression or ideally, if administered years before symptoms first appear, even prevent its onset. Currently, several multi-center clinical trials that are testing proof of concept to slow the progression of so far untreatable features of the disease as for example debilitating cognitive impairment in genetically stratified groups of patients.

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Thu | Nov 09, 2023 | 12.50 PM - 01.00 PM Berlin Time

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