Patrik Verstreken to be awarded 2014 IBRO-Kemali Prize for Research

8 July 2013
Paris, FRANCE (July 8, 2013) – The Ninth International Prize of the IBRO-Kemali Foundation will be awarded to Patrik Verstreken of VIB and KU Leuven, Belgium.

"Patrik Verstreken was chosen to receive the 2014 IBRO-Kemali Prize in recognition of his outstanding work on mechanisms underlying presynaptic transmitter release, and its relevance to neurodegen-erative diseases," said Marina Bentivoglio, chair of the IBRO-Kemali Foundation Scientific Committee.

The IBRO-Kemali International Prize for Research in the Field of Basic and Clinical Neurosciences is awarded every two years to an outstanding researcher, under the age of 45, who has made important contributions in the field. As the winner of this prize, 38-year-old Patrik Verstreken will receive 25,000 Euros from the IBRO-Kemali Foundation and will be invited to give a featured lecture at the 2014 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum of Neuroscience, taking place from July 5th-9th in Milan, Italy.

Patrik Verstreken’s Laboratory studies neuronal communication in health and disease, by combining fruit fly genetics and molecular biology with electrophysiological measurements of synaptic transmission and an array of imaging strategies. Dr. Verstreken and his team have unraveled numerous aspects of how the synaptic vesicles from which a neurotransmitter is released are trafficked in presynaptic terminals, how this trafficking depends on energy supplied from mitochondria, and how these processes may be affected in neurodegenerative disease. Strikingly, he has identified vitamin K2, which is known for its role in bone formation and blood clotting, as a novel mitochondrial electron carrier molecule that is required to maintain high levels of mitochondrial activity and neurotransmitter release. These findings are important for understanding how synapses function and have potential relevance to devising therapies for Parkinson’s disease and related disorders.

Dr. Verstreken earned his PhD in Developmental Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, USA, in the laboratory of Dr. Hugo J. Bellen, after which he did post-doctoral research at Baylor’s Department of Molecular and Human Genetics/Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Since 2007 Dr. Verstreken has served as a Group Leader at VIB Leuven, Belgium, and was appointed associate professor in 2012. He received an ERC Starting Grant in 2010 and a Marie Curie Excellence Grant in 2007, and was appointed as a Francqui Docent in 2009.

“In spite of his young age, Patrik has already made impressive contributions to neuroscience and has established himself as one of the most promising neuroscientists of his generation in Europe,” wrote Pietro De Camilli, M.D. (Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology at Yale University, USA), in his letter of support for Dr. Verstreken. “His success as an independent investigator has been nothing short of spectacular.... He is also pursuing collaborations with industrial partners aimed at promoting a translation of his results into research with potential clinical relevance.”

The IBRO-Kemali Foundation (formerly the Dargut and Milena Kemali Foundation) was established in 1996 by Dargut Kemali, a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Naples, and by the will of his late wife Milena Agostini Kemali (1926-1993). Convinced that brain research is a high priority in the science of our times, Dargut Kemali had long been interested in the biological foundations of mental diseases and was one of the founders of “Biological Psychiatry” in Italy. Milena Kemali was a skillful neuroscientist who focused on the frog brain, identifying, among other findings, an asymmetry of the habenulae that has inspired debates on the evolution of lateralization in the brain. Upon Dargut Kemali’s death in 2011, IBRO absorbed the Foundation, according to his wishes.

IBRO, the International Brain Research Organization, is the global neuroscience federation dedicated to the promotion of neuroscience and communication between brain researchers around the world, with special emphasis on assisting young investigators in the developing world. Incorporated in 1961, IBRO now represents 84 member societies in 61 countries around the globe, with a membership of over 75,000 neuroscientists. IBRO’s many outreach and funding programs are carried out locally through five Regional Committees.

Patrik Verstreken © VIB