Professor Andrej O. Župančič Memorial Lecture

Dr. Sonia M. Vallabh

Genetic prion disorders and patient-scientist's mandate

Time: Friday, 24 September 2021: 19:00 - 19:45 CET

Professor Andrej O. Župančič

Andrej O Zupančič

Professor Andrej O. Župančič (27. januar 1916 - 3. december 2007) was the founder and the first Head of the Institute of Pathophysiology at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, Slovenia. Under his guidance, the institute became a center of internationally renowned neuroscience research in Slovenia. Being a fascinating person, he attracted many young scientists into this field and incited neuroscience research also in other university and clinical institutions. He was the first Honorary member of SiNAPSA, accepting our invitation when the society was very young, giving its mission his wholehearted support.

Professor Župančič passed away in 2007 and the organizers of the SNC'21 together with his former students and friends in Slovenia dedicate this lecture to his memory.

Dr. Sonia M. Vallabh

Sonia M. Vallabh Sonia Vallabh works at the Broad Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, where she co-leads the initiative to develop preventive drugs for prion disease.

Dr. Vallabh's work is a personal mission. In 2010, Vallabh's mother died of a rapidly progressive dementia, which was diagnosed as fatal familial insomnia (FFI), a genetic prion disease. Subsequent genetic testing revealed that Dr. Vallabh had inherited the causal mutation. There is no prevention, treatment, or cure for FFI.

Dr. Vallabh quit her career in law and, together with her husband, Eric Minikel, re-trained as a scientist. Their mission is to find a way to stop FFI before it starts. Their work is focused on developing preventive drugs for prion disease, in particular PrP-lowering drugs, using PrP in cerebrospinal fluid as a pharmacodynamic biomarker for such drugs, and establishment of a clinical pathway for preventive drug development. Dr. Vallabh co-leads a natural history study at Massachusetts General Hospital devoted to the assessment of fluid biomarkers in individuals at risk for genetic prion disease. She helped to launch the Prion Registry to promote and enable research participation in her community.

Vallabh holds a B.A. from Swarthmore College, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a Ph.D. in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Harvard University. She trained in Stuart Schreiber’s laboratory at the Broad. In 2016, she served as a patient representative in the White House Precision Medicine Initiative. Her story has been told in The New Yorker, NPR, and WIRED.

Dr. Vallabh photo: Maria Numchuk.

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