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Alim Louis Benabid, pioneer in treatment of Parkinson’s disease, receives Lasker foundation award

on the September 8, 2014

The prestigious 2014 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for his contributions to Parkinson’s disease treatment

Benabid and co-winner Mahlon R. DeLong of Emory University were honored for their separate contributions to developing high frequency deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus, a surgical technique that reduces tremors and restores motor function in patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease (PD). The technique is indicated for PD patients who suffer complications from Levodopa, a commonly used medication for treating the disease.

The Lasker Awards are among the most respected science prizes in the world. Since the awards’ inception in 1945, 86 Lasker laureates have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, including 47 in the past three decades. The award will be presented to Benabid and DeLong on Sept. 19 in New York City. It includes a $250,000 honorarium that the two scientists will share.

DeLong, a professor of neurology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga. USA, formulated a new model for the brain’s circuitry and exposed a fresh target for treatment of PD in the subthalamic nucleus, a crossroads of the nervous system that deals with controlling movement. Working as a neurosurgeon at Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France, Benabid developed a reversible surgical technique that applied low electrical current at high frequency to the thalamic area to relieve shaking in PD patients. As head of neurosurgery at the University Hospital of Grenoble, he devised a technique that also stimulates the subthalamic nucleus, the role of which was highlighted by DeLong’s work, and which relieves slow movement and stiffness in PD patients.

Their work has culminated in an effective treatment for more than 100,000 individuals worldwide with severe illness who suffer from the complications of levodopa therapy,” the Lasker Foundation’s award citation explains. “Through their open-minded explorations and willingness to challenge dogma, Benabid and DeLong have delivered extraordinary medical innovations to humankind. By reaching deep into the brain, they have soothed some of the most troubling conditions that corrupt it.

Benabid, a professor emeritus of biophysics at Université Joseph Fourier, focused on the approach of neurosurgical pathologies during his career, particularly brain tumors and movement disorders. From 1989 to 2007, he was head of the Neurosurgery Department at the University Hospital of Grenoble. In 2009, he helped found Clinatec, the multidisciplinary biomedical research center at CEA in Grenoble.

Many scientific breakthroughs are a team effort, whether researchers are working shoulder to shoulder in the lab, or investigating similar subjects on opposite sides of the ocean,” Benabid said. “I am elated, honored and humbled to receive the Lasker Award and to share it with Dr. DeLong, whose work has played a vital role in advancing the technique of deep brain stimulation. I am also very grateful for the support I have received over many years from my colleagues at Université Joseph Fourier, INSERM and CEA, and I am increasingly optimistic about the prospects that technology offers for treatment of neurological disorders.

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Updated on September 25, 2014

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