EPFL neuroscientist wins Vontobel Award for Age(ing)

Anne-Laure Mahul-Mellier. Credit: EPFL

Anne-Laure Mahul-Mellier. Credit: EPFL

Anne-Laure Mahul-Mellier, a neuroscientist at EPFL’s School of Life Sciences, has won a Vontobel Award for Age(ing ) from the University of Zürich for her work on Parkinson’s disease.

Once a year, the Center for Gerontology of the University of Zurich grants the Vontobel Award for Research on Age(ing). Sponsored by the Vontobel Foundation, the Award is given to one or more persons “for completed, publishable or published work of excellent quality in the format of a journal article.” The aim of the Award is “to support gerontological research in Switzerland originating from any field of science referring to age(ing),” and offers an amount of CHF 30,000 to “outstanding young scientific talent”

This year, EPFL neuroscientist Anne-Laure Mahul-Mellier was among the three female scientists awarded a Vontobel Award for Research on Age(ing) in 2020. Mahul-Mellier works in the Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology and Neuroproteomics, led by Professor Hilal Lashuel at EPFL’s Brain Mind Institute in the School of Life Sciences. One of the major focus of the Lashuel’s lab is developing disease models that recapitulate the cardinal features of neuropathology in neurodegenerative diseases.

Mahul-Mellier’s research focuses on Lewy Bodies (LBs), which are the hallmark of Parkinson's disease, as well as related disorders, called synucleinopathies. Understanding how these LBs form is crucial to developing therapeutic strategies to prevent their formation and toxic events associated with this process. Mahul-Mellier and colleagues in the lab has developed a neuronal model, Lewy body in a dish, that can reproduce Lewy bodies that resemble at the level of organization, biochemical composition and structure those found in the Parkinson’s brain, all at the level of a single cell. Her work has shown that neurodegeneration is not driven by the initial aggregation events (i.e. alpha-synuclein fibrils themselves, but by the late events associated with LB formation and maturation. This model offers exciting opportunities for identifying and testing novel therapeutic for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and synucleinopathies.

“I am deeply honored to receive the Vontobel award 2020 along with my talented co-authors from the Lashuel lab and the Biological Electron Microscopy Facility and Biomolecular Screening Facility teams at EPFL’s School of Life Sciences,” says Mahul-Meiller. “They all contributed to develop and characterize a new model that, webelieve, offers new insights into how Parkinson’s disease begins and evolves, and opens up a set of potential new treatment targets.”

The paper that won Mahul-Mellier the Vontobel Award is titled:

“The process of Lewy body formation, rather than simply alpha-synuclein fibrillization, is one of the major drivers of neurodegeneration.” PNAS, 117 (9), 4971–4982 (2020, March 3)
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913904117

Official press release by the University of Zürich (German)