Chan Zuckerberg Initiative funding brings together interdisciplinary experts to accelerate understanding
Ivan Marazzi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was awarded $2.5 million in funding by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to further the understanding of the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders such as Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. The award is part of a $64 million commitment by CZI to fund early-career investigators and collaborative science teams to launch the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. This new network brings together experimental scientists from diverse research fields–neuroscience, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology, and genomics.
“I am honored to receive this prestigious award and look forward to working closely with my colleagues in an effort to reach scientific breakthroughs that will help millions of people suffering from these diseases,” said Dr. Marazzi. “CZI recognizes the importance of cross-disciplinary approaches to study neurodegenerative disorders and improve health for mankind.”
“To fill gaps in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, we need to support new approaches, explore new ideas, and help experts connect across disciplines,” said CZI Head of Science Cori Bargmann. “We’re excited to welcome the first group of CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network grantees. Together, their work will increase our knowledge of the basic biology of these diseases–and we need that knowledge to develop better treatments.”
Dr. Marazzi studies epigenetic- and chromatin-mediated mechanisms, the heritable alterations that cause genes to turn on or off, and the cellular response to pathogens or cellular differentiation. The major focus of his research is the unique and shared molecular pathways underlying inflammatory, infectious, and neurodegenerative diseases. His work in neurodegeneration has provided a new paradigm for how mutations can confer both susceptibility to infection and predisposition to neurodegeneration. Building on this groundbreaking discovery, he aims to elucidate the relationship between seemingly unrelated diseases and find effective therapeutic interventions.
Neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), are a class of diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease alone is the fifth most common cause of death for Americans above age 65, and the number of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is predicted to nearly triple–from 5 million to 14 million people–by 2060. Meanwhile, the causes of most neurodegenerative diseases are only partly understood, and there are still no effective therapies to cure, prevent, or even treat most of these disorders.
The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network seeks to address these gaps by launching a collaborative network that will bring together scientists, physicians, and engineers to focus on neurodegenerative diseases as a broad class of disorders, with shared features and potentially shared solutions. Challenge Network researchers will focus on understanding the fundamental biology of what causes these diseases and how they progress, with an aim toward future development of new strategies for treatment and prevention.
“Despite tremendous investment and progress in understanding these diseases, there remains a surprising amount of very basic information about their biology that we don’t know,” said CZI Science Program Officer Katja Brose. “By supporting these interdisciplinary collaborations and generating shared tools, resources, and platforms, we hope to inspire a new approach to tackling neurodegenerative disease–one that leverages the combined power of basic science and technology to accelerate progress towards clinical goals.”
In February 2018, CZI issued an open request for applications to the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network.
CZI’s Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards, named for the late Ben Barres, MD, PhD, an American neurobiologist and fierce advocate for young scientists, women, mentorship, and diversity in science, will support early-career academic investigators, especially those who are new to the field of neurodegeneration. CZI is awarding a total of $55.25 million for these awards. Each of the 17 selected investigators will receive $2.5 million, and will benefit from the scientific and professional mentorship and collaborative support of the Challenge Network.
CZI’s Collaborative Science Awards will support small groups of interdisciplinary collaborations focused on the fundamental biology of neurodegeneration. Each collaborative group includes at least one physician. CZI believes that fostering new models of collaboration between physicians, engineers, computational biologists, and scientists studying basic biology will allow them to reach breakthroughs faster. CZI is providing more than $9 million for these awards. Each of the nine selected groups will receive $1.05 million each.