Alumni Merit Award: David M. Holtzman (WCAS83, FSM85)
Anyone who has witnessed a family member or friend battle Alzheimer’s disease can attest to the importance of David Holtzman’s research.
Holtzman is the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and Chairman of Neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine, where he also serves as associate director of the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. His research focuses on the mechanisms underlying protein aggregation in the brain—a process that appears to cause Alzheimer’s disease as well as a host of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, and Hungtinton’s disease — as he seeks ways to prevent these deadly and incurable diseases.
Last year Holtzman was profiled by U.S. News & World Report after he and his colleagues developed a stable isotope-linked kinetics test to quickly determine the effectiveness of new Alzheimer’s drugs.
Ten years ago his lab discovered the ability of an antibody to counteract some of the effects of a protein called amyloid that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. This antibody is now in late phase clinical testing as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. His lab also recently found a link between sleep deprivation and developing the disease later in life— a breakthrough that underscored the importance of treating sleep disorders and may ultimately open new avenues for treating Alzheimer’s.
Holtzman’s research has earned him numerous distinctions. He was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2004 and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. His other honors include the 2003 Potamkin Prize from the American Academy of Neurology, a MERIT Award from the National Institute on Aging in 2004, and the MetLife Foundation Award in 2006.
Given Holtzman’s history of research excellence, some might be surprised to learn his initial training was as a clinical neurologist, not an investigator. He credits his education at the Feinberg School of Medicine for providing him with the foundation to make the transition.
“My clinical and research experience at Northwestern was very helpful in that my education and training were very solid,” he says. “This provided a basis for what I thought were ultimately the key questions to ask in the field.”
Holtzman’s six years at Northwestern were productive, but certainly not devoid of fun. He estimates that about half of his close friends are from his college years and warmly recounts his involvement in a fraternity prank that involved temporarily borrowing the large Northwestern sign from the south end of campus.
After leaving Northwestern, Holtzman completed a fellowship, residency, and post doctoral research training at the University of California San Francisco, where he was an assistant professor from 1991 until he moved into his own laboratory at Washington University in 1994. He became an associate professor of neurology there in 2001 and a professor the following year.
He and his wife, Tracy, live in St. Louis.