Mesulam announces he is stepping down; Vassar named director
After 28 years of outstanding leadership, M. Marsel Mesulam, MD, the Ruth Dunbar Davee Professor of Neuroscience in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, an international authority on primary progressive aphasia (PPA), has announced that he will be stepping down as director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease, effective January 1st. He will remain on the faculty to continue his research.
Mesulam will be succeeded by Robert Vassar, PhD, the Davee Professor of Alzheimer Research and professor of Neurology and of Cell and Developmental Biology, and scientific director of Behavioral Neurology in the Department of Neurology. He is also the Director of the NIH-funded Northwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
Mesulam to transfer leadership of the Mesulam Center
Mesulam has made important contributions to the understanding of neural structure, defining neurotransmitter pathways and how deterioration in these pathways contributes to dementia. Discoveries Mesulam made about primary progressive aphasia in the 1980s have brought clarity to some of the mysteries of dementia and have also provided a tool for scientists to understand how language is mapped in the human brain.
“Marsel has built a nexus of Alzheimer’s research at Feinberg, generating exceptional clinical and scientific research, building a stellar national reputation, and providing much-needed hope for the millions affected by this disease,” said Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean at Feinberg. “We are grateful for his many years of dedication, and we know Bob will continue to advance Feinberg’s intellectual eminence in the field of Alzheimer’s research.”
Mesulam’s contributions to Alzheimer’s research have been widely celebrated. In 2010, he received the Bengt Winblad Lifetime Achievement from the Alzheimer’s Association, and in 2014, the Potamkin Prize from the American Academy of Neurology. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers during his career.
Vassar Named Next Director of the Mesulam Center
Vassar, a renowned expert in Alzheimer’s disease, joined Feinberg in 2001. He earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1992 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular neuroscience at Columbia University in 1996. As his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he has devoted his career to finding a treatment. He is deeply committed to advancing the clinical and basic science in the field of progressive dementias.
“I am honored to become the next Director of the Mesulam Center and to begin our work on achieving the next clinical and basic science summits, wherever the science takes us,” Vassar said. “The Center has many talented investigators and I look forward to working with each of these wonderful people.”
Vassar studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease, with the goal of contributing to effective disease-modifying therapies. In 1999 he identified BACE1, an enzyme that makes beta-amyloid, a protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and leads to the death of brain cells. He continued his work on BACE1 at Feinberg, laying the groundwork for BACE1 inhibition as a new therapeutic strategy; as a result, BACE1-inhibitor drugs have been tested in clinical trials. He is also studying the links between inflammation, protein deposits, and risk factor genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Vassar has received many prestigious honors, including the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease in 2007, the Potamkin Prize from the American Academy of Neurology in 2009 and the Zenith Fellows Award from the Alzheimer’s Association in 2014. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and his work has contributed to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Richard Axel in 2004. He has authored or co-authored more than 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Science, Nature, Cell, Science Translational Medicine, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, PNAS, Lancet Neurology, JAMA Neurology and Journal of Experimental Medicine.