Announcing the Inaugural Awardees of the Carol and Gene Ludwig Pilot Grant Program in Neurodegeneration

Two inaugural awards in the field of neurodegeneration were announced today as part of the Carol and Gene Ludwig Center for Research on Neurodegeneration. The Center, based in the Department of Neurology of Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, was established in 2022 to support innovative research on the underlying biological and genetic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

A cornerstone of this new center is the Ludwig Pilot Grant Program in Neurodegeneration, which provides seed funding to high-risk/high-reward research projects in promising areas of neurodegenerative disease. One of the larger goals of the grant program is to build a cohort of Ludwig investigators focused on the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and the translation of novel research into clinically useful tools.

“Earlier this year, we were excited to release the inaugural Carol and Gene Ludwig Pilot Grant Program in Neurodegeneration, and were delighted and impressed with the many high-quality, innovative, and highly collaborative applications we received that were all incredibly novel, with the potential to be dogma-shifting,” says Ludwig Center co-director Dr. Elizabeth Bradshaw, Adler Assistant Professor of Neurological Sciences (in Neurology and the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain). “Among the competitive field of applicants, two particularly innovative proposals stood out, and each will receive up to $150,000, over a period of up to two years.”

Pictured top (left to right): Itamar Kahn, PhD and Vilas Menon, PhD, and bottom: Annie J. Lee, PhD.

Pictured: top (left to right) are Itamar Kahn, PhD and Vilas Menon, PhD, and bottom, Annie J. Lee, PhD.

The first project, “Determining Signatures of Resilience to Alzheimer’s Disease at Multiple Spatial Scales,” is led by Co-Principal Investigators Itamar Kahn, PhD, and Vilas Menon, PhD, with postdoctoral students Eyal Bergmann and Jonathan Algoo. The second project, “Genetic Association Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Cardio-Cerebrovascular Risk Factors,” is led by Principal Investigator Annie Lee, PhD, with co-investigators Badri Vardarajan, PhD, and Caghan Kizil, PhD.

The Kahn-Menon project aims to address the crucial question of why some individuals remain resilient to the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) while others do not. “Identifying the genes and mechanisms that lead to a greater ability to tolerate AD pathology burden represents a promising strategy to prioritizing new pathways that, when targeted, can help maintain or ameliorate cognitive function,” explain Drs. Kahn and Menon. By applying whole-brain imaging approaches to translationally relevant animal model systems, the investigators seek to identify which brain circuits, regions, and cell types are involved in the promotion of cognitive resilience with respect to AD pathology, to help prioritize druggable candidates.

The second project, led by Dr. Lee, aims to create sophisticated statistical methods to discover the complex interplay between genes and cardio-cerebrovascular risk factors in Alzheimer’s disease, using data collected from multiethnic studies of cognitive aging. By further interrogating this data with comprehensive multi-omics approaches (epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics), she and her co-investigators aim “to provide a more detailed and dynamic understanding of the progression from vascular risk to AD pathology, to identify potential therapeutic targets,” explains Dr. Lee.

“Congratulations to our inaugural awardees!” says Ludwig Center co-director Dr. Peter St George-Hyslop, Belle and Murray Nathan Professor of Neurology (in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain). “With these innovative first projects, the Carol and Gene Ludwig Center for Research in Neurodegeneration takes a key first step in our mission to further knowledge about the pathobiology of neurodegenerative disease, toward our ultimate goal of developing innovative tools and molecules to diagnose, monitor, and treat these devastating diseases.”

For more information about these projects or details about the Ludwig Center Pilot Grant Program in Neurodegeneration, please contact Tina Xue, Director of Finance & Research Administration.