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November 14, 2018
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The Alzheimer's Association is awarding Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), a Zenith Fellows research grant. This funding will support scientific investigations into the development of a highly innovative and more relevant model to study Alzheimer’s disease using pieces of human brain tissue generated in the laboratory from cells isolated from people who had Alzheimer’s disease. 

One of the most prestigious awards in Alzheimer’s research, the Zenith Fellows grants support senior scientists who have contributed significantly to the Alzheimer's disease research field, but need support to advance a new idea. The grant provides Dr. Soto $450,000 in project funding over 3 years. 

Alzheimer’s is a complex, progressive brain disease. Right now there is no treatment that can stop, slow or prevent its progression. The currently approved Alzheimer’s disease medications address the worsening of symptoms but are ineffective in changing the disease’s course.

“We must better understand the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s to find new treatments and preventions,” said Richard Elbein, CEO, Alzheimer’s Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter. “The Zenith Fellows grants specifically aim to fill this knowledge gap by supporting research on fundamental problems related to early detection, causes, and progression of the disease.”

For the past 25 years, Soto has been working to understand the molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases associated with the misfolding and brain accumulation of proteins, particularly focusing on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's and prion-related disorders. His work has led not only to a better understanding of these diseases, but also to the development of novel strategies for diagnosis and therapeutic intervention. Soto has published over 170 peer-reviewed publications, received numerous awards and has been invited to speak at more than 200 scientific meetings across the world. He has been awarded multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, The Department of Defense, and various private foundations totaling more than  $40 million.

“We still do not completely understand the chain of events that leads to neuronal dysfunction and brain damage responsible for Alzheimer's disease,” Soto said. “With this Zenith Fellows Award, my team and I will work on the development and characterization of a highly innovative model to study the disease.”

His team plans to produce a piece of the human brain, termed mini-brain, in the lab from cells that came from people who had Alzheimer’s disease, which with time will develop the main abnormalities typical of the disease. 

“These mini-brains may be utilized not only to understand the molecular basis of the disease in the actual human cells, but will also represent an excellent tool to screen for compounds that can be used for the treatment of this devastating disease,” said Soto, who is director of The George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Brain Related Disorders at UTHealth. He is also the Huffington Foundation Distinguished Chair in Neurology.

This latest round of Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Fellows research grants support three scientific
investigations totaling $1.35 million. This funding brings the total amount awarded through the program to more than $40 million. The program is funded by members of the Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Society, a group of visionary individuals and organizations that have each committed $1 million or more to the Alzheimer’s Association to support research.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is pleased to make these funds available for cutting-edge research in The Texas Medical Center that challenges prevailing ideas about the causes and progression of Alzheimer’s,” said Elbein. “We are incredibly grateful to the Alzheimer's Association Zenith Society members for their involvement with and generous donations to the Association to make these research grants possible.”

The Zenith Fellows Award Program is part of a larger research funding effort from the Alzheimer’s Association that has awarded more than $435 million to more than 2,900 projects. Alzheimer’s Association funding has led to some of the most important research breakthroughs in dementia science. This includes supporting some of the first Alzheimer’s drug studies and development of the first chemical tracer making it possible to visualize amyloid buildup in the living brain. 

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more Americans than diabetes and more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures ( By 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer's is projected to dramatically increase to as many as 14 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease. There are 1.4 million Texans providing 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care for the 380,000 Texans living with Alzheimer’s disease. 

For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association at 

About the Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s research, care and support. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit or call 800-272-3900.

About The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Established in 1972 by The University of Texas System Board of Regents, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is Houston’s Health University and Texas’ resource for health care education, innovation, scientific discovery and excellence in patient care. The most comprehensive academic health center in the UT System and the U.S. Gulf Coast region, UTHealth is home to schools of biomedical informatics, biomedical sciences, dentistry, nursing and public health and the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School. UTHealth includes The University of Texas Harris County Psychiatric Center, as well as the growing clinical practices UT Physicians, UT Dentists and UT Health Services. The university’s primary teaching hospitals are Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospitaland Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™ For more information, visit or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.

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