Dario ALESSI, of British nationality, is awarded the 2023 Jeantet-Collen Prize for Translational Medicine for elucidating molecular bases of neurodegenerative disorders and developing novel approaches to therapeutic intervention in Parkinson’s disease.
Dario Alessi was born in Strasbourg in 1967. He earned his Bachelor’s and PhD degrees from the University of Birmingham and carried out postdoctoral work at the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee. He has been a group leader in this Unit since 1997 and was appointed its director in 2012.
Dario Alessi was elected as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2005 and as Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002, of the Royal Society in 2008 and of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2012. Throughout his career, he has been honoured with awards and recognitions, including the EMBO Gold Medal (2005) and the Francis Crick Prize of the Royal Society (2006). He currently serves as President elect of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Deciphering Parkinson’s disease: disruption on the highways of cell communication
Dario Alessi’s research focuses on unravelling the roles of biological pathways controlling cellular communication that become disrupted in disease. He has contributed to understanding pathways involved in diabetes, cancer and blood pressure. In 2004, Alessi concentrated his research to understand how mutations that disrupt a communication network termed the “LRRK2 pathway” cause Parkinson’s disease. His research was motivated by the lack of treatments that slow the progression of Parkinson’s, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system estimated to impact around 10 million people worldwide.
In painstaking work that took over 12 years, Alessi revealed that genetic mutations linked to Parkinson’s hyper-activate the LRRK2 pathway and impact on cell biology via another class of enzymes, termed Rabs. This research contributed to understanding how LRRK2 might be linked to causing disease and the notion that drugs targeting LRRK2 could have utility in preventing and/or slowing down progression of Parkinson’s. Pharmaceutical companies have exploited this knowledge to develop compounds that target LRRK2, and these have entered late-phase clinical trials. Alessi identified and characterized several other components of the LRRK2 pathway, including the PPM1H protein phosphatase that counteracts LRRK2 by dephosphorylating Rab proteins. Alessi is exploring whether it is possible to develop enhancers of PPM1H for the treatment of Parkinson’s.
Alessi is passionate about open science, sharing, working with industry and clinicians, as well as fostering a collaborative culture. He has established platforms to enable proactive dissemination of reagents/technologies developed at his institute (the MRC-PPU) to researchers worldwide. These platforms are now being extended so that all MRC Units/Institutes can more easily share their resources. He is motivated to improve awareness of issues relating to equality, diversity, inclusion, gender, and mental health and acknowledges that these issues have not been adequately considered previously.