25 September 2020

International Prize Pays Tribute to the Discovery of the Brain's Cleaning System


In connection with Alzheimer's, protein waste products accumulate in the brain which may cause brain cells to stop functioning and die. Professor Maiken Nedergaard's research has shown that the brain's cleaning system, the glymphatic system, plays a major role in protecting against Alzheimer's. For this ground-breaking discovery, she is now – together with two research colleagues – receiving the International Prize for Translational Neuroscience from the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation. The prize will be presented by the President of the Max Planck Society in Germany.

Dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's are becoming more and more prevalent as the average life expectancy increases. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for these diseases. Therefore, researchers around the world are still looking for answers as to why the diseases occur and, thus, how to treat them.

One of these researchers is Professor Maiken Nedergaard from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Rochester. She has discovered a key mechanism that seems to protect against Alzheimer's by cleaning the brain while we sleep.

The mechanism is called the glymphatic system, and this discovery is the reason why she will now receive the International Prize for Translational Neuroscience from the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation.

‘I am extremely grateful to receive this prize. It is a great recognition of my research and the scientific discoveries that everyone in my research group has contributed to’, says Professor Maiken Nedergaard.

Recognition of the Dementia Field

Her discoveries are mainly about the way in which the brain can clean itself by flushing waste products in the form of proteins out of the brain. This helps the proteins to not pile up in large lumps of plaque, which may impair the function of brain cells and lead to Alzheimer's.

It is especially the so-called glial cells that help maintain this flushing of the brain. The glial cells draw fluid from our blood into the brain and channel it out again.

‘It is extremely gratifying for me that this international prize goes to the dementia field. It shows how important research in these diseases is, and it naturally whets our appetite for continued research’, says Maiken Nedergaard.

The prize is EUR 60,000. It is the first time that a Danish researcher receives the prize, which was presented to the three recipients at a ceremony the 10th of September.