St. Jude Researcher Receives Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s Research

MIAMI, April 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The 2020 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases has been awarded to J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD, Chair of the Cell and Molecular Biology Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Potamkin Prize, sponsored by Potamkin Philanthropies, is given in partnership with the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation (ABF). Potamkin Philanthropies Co-Chair Andi Potamkin presented the award to Dr. Taylor in a livestream that was part of the ABF’s 2020 Commitment to Cures virtual awards gala, hosted by CNBC personality Jim Cramer.

First established in 1988, the Potamkin Prize was created to honor Luba Potamkin, wife of famed entrepreneur Victor Potamkin. Luba Potamkin was diagnosed with Pick’s disease in 1978. The Potamkin Prize is often called the Nobel Prize of Alzheimer’s research.

Dr. Taylor’s research focuses on phase separation, which is the way in which the contents of cells spontaneously separate into compartments similar to the way oil and water spontaneously separate. He was drawn to this phenomenon by dogged pursuit of patient mutations and a little bit of luck.

Dr. Taylor saved DNA samples from patients for many years in hopes that they might someday become useful. Finally, around 2009, methods for whole genome sequencing became available and Dr. Taylor immediately began sequencing his patients and made the surprising discovery that mutations causing neurodegeneration were frequently found in the unstructured regions of proteins. Upon purifying these proteins and examining their behavior in a test tube, he recognized that these unstructured regions were capable of phase separation, essentially forming protein droplets in water.

In subsequent work, Dr. Taylor and others came to appreciate that phase separation is an important strategy of cellular organization; for example, forming RNA granules. Most importantly, Dr. Taylor discovered that disease mutations impair normal phase separation, which impairs gene expression in neurons and kicks off the process of abnormal protein deposition so common in end-term Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

The Potamkin Prize selection committee said, “Dr. Taylor’s groundbreaking studies link the molecular mechanisms of several neurodegenerative diseases together—ranging from astute clinical observation all the way to molecular mechanisms of disease and new therapeutic avenues. Of particular interest is his recent work on liquid-liquid phase transitions, a biophysical property that seems to go awry in neurons undergoing some forms of disease processes.”

“Receiving the Potamkin Prize is a great honor, and I am so thankful for the recognition of my research,” said Dr. Taylor. “With the support of St. Jude, I am excited to continue down the path toward a better understanding of neurodegeneration.” Dr. Taylor is spearheading a new era at St. Jude by expanding its scope beyond its world-renowned pediatric cancer research into broader research into neurological diseases.

Over the years, The Potamkin Prize has awarded more than $3 million to 67 scientists conducting innovative research in the field. The $100,000 annual award is given for achievements in emerging areas of research in Alzheimer’s, Pick’s, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

“I am delighted to bestow this award upon Dr. Taylor,” said Andi Potamkin. “It is such an honor to see how this prize, created in my grandmother’s memory, is paving the way toward finding treatments and cures.”

About Potamkin Philanthropies

Potamkin Philanthropies is the philanthropic arm of the Potamkin Companies. Representing the Potamkin family’s passion for a variety of causes, Potamkin Philanthropies funds numerous activities, primarily in the fields of art, education and science. Potamkin Philanthropies has funded the Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases, an annual $100,000 prize often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Alzheimer’s research, since 1988. More information about the Potamkin Prize can be found at

About the American Academy of Neurology

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit

About the American Brain Foundation

The American Brain Foundation was founded by the American Academy of Neurology as the premier foundation that promotes and invests in research across the whole spectrum of brain disease. We believe that when we cure one of these diseases, we will cure many. Learn more at

About St. Jude

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.

Media Contact:
Lucy O’Brien

SOURCE Potamkin Philanthropies

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