July 1 , 2008

CONTACT: Karen Kreeger
(215) 349-5658

Penn Scientist Selected as One of This Year's Twenty Pew Scholars in Biomedical Sciences

PHILADELPHIA- Aaron D. Gitler, PhD, Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has been recognized as one of 20 2008 Pew Scholars in Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Gitler plans to investigate how protein misfolding can lead to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

Launched in 1985, The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences supports early to midcareer scientists and has invested more than $100 million to fund over 400 scholars. The Program, which is funded by Pew through a grant to University of California at San Francisco, gives each scholar a $240,000 award over four years to help support their work.

"I am truly honored and humbled to have my work recognized by the Pew Foundation," said Dr. Gitler. "This award will allow me the freedom to pursue new avenues of research."  

In groundbreaking work accomplished during his postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Gitler and his colleagues used yeast cells that produce α-synuclein, a protein found in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease, to identify a set of genes that prevented α-synuclein from generating toxic effects. These genes not only allowed the yeast cells to survive, but also were able to stave off toxicity when introduced into animal models of Parkinson's disease. 

Dr. Gitler will explore how α-synuclein contributes to neurodegeneration-and how the genes he discovered in yeast rescue cells from death.  He also will use his yeast system to study the molecular pathways involved in other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).  His work could open up new avenues for the treatment of many devastating neurological disorders.


PENN Medicine is a $3.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #4 in the nation in U.S.News & World Report's survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to most recent data from the National Institutes of Health, received over $379 million in NIH research funds in the 2006 fiscal year. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals - its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation's "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S.News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center - a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

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