As an acclaimed physician-investigator in dystonia and Parkinson’s disease, Dr. William T. Dauer never loses sight of the inspiration for his research – his patients.
Dr. Dauer, Director of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern, is the recipient of the sixth annual Bachmann-Strauss Prize for Excellence in Dystonia Research. Given in partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), the prize honors dystonia researchers for key scientific discoveries and provides incentive for the next generation of investigators to continue forging paths toward cures. Dr. Todd Sherer, CEO of MJFF, and Elyse Weinbaum, a longtime patient of Dr. Dauer, presented the prize Nov. 17 at the Foundation’s virtual Research Roundtable event.
“It is a tremendous honor to have the work of my trainees and me recognized by this award,” said Dr. Dauer, who is also Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at UTSW. “Two things make the award particularly special. First, it was presented to me by one of my long-term and most beloved patients. Nothing helps keep in focus the real-life importance of science like interacting with people suffering from the disease. Second, the co-sponsors of the award, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia Foundation, are special organizations that have done so much for the field of movement disorders.”
Dr. Dauer came to UT Southwestern in July 2019 from the University of Michigan, where he had served as Director of the Movement Disorders Group and Director of the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research.
“Dr. Dauer has spearheaded groundbreaking research that explores the underlying causes, development, and treatment of dystonia. We created the research prize for this purpose – to speed discoveries and testing of new therapies to help people living with this condition,” said Bonnie Strauss, who was diagnosed with dystonia in 1984 and founded The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation in 1995. The Foundation launched a collaborative research alliance with MJFF a decade later.
In 2014, a group of researchers led by Dr. Dauer developed a preclinical model that mimics dystonia, a movement disorder and symptom of Parkinson’s characterized by painful, prolonged muscle contractions that result in abnormal movements and postures.
In some cases of dystonia, a mutation in the DYT1 gene causes brain cells to make a less active form of a protein called torsinA. Dr. Dauer created the dystonia model by weakening the torsinA function, which led to the death of certain brain cells that control movement. This important tool has allowed scientists to better explore the biology of dystonia’s onset and progression and test the impact of therapies.
The Bachmann-Strauss Prize includes a $100,000 research grant.
“These funds will be used to advance our work defining the molecular and connectivity abnormalities of a specific neuronal cell type (striatal cholinergic interneurons) that produces the abnormal twisting movements that characterize dystonia,” Dr. Dauer said. “A particularly exciting direction of the work is our plan to explore in patients with the illness the same cell type that we are focused on in our animal model work. Recent advances in PET imaging enable these cholinergic interneurons to be visualized.”