Prize-Winning Science

Chemist Jeanne Hardy untangles the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease
UMass Professor Jeanne Hardy in her lab.

The challenges wrought by Alzheimer’s disease are increasing with the graying of society in the developed world. Although no suitable treatments for Alzheimer’s disease exist, recent discoveries by UMass Amherst Professor of Chemistry Jeanne Hardy may significantly advance the ability to treat this devastating disease.

For her work, Hardy was selected as the inaugural recipient of the university’s Mahoney Life Sciences Prize, which recognizes scientists from the College of Natural Sciences whose work significantly advances connections between research and industry. The $10,000 prize will be awarded annually to one faculty member who is the principal author of a peer-reviewed paper about original research. 

The Mahoney Brothers

Robert '70, Richard 55, '83Hon, William '55

The award was established by Robert ’70, Richard ’55, ’83Hon, and William Mahoney ’55, who all received their degrees in chemistry from UMass Amherst and went on to become leaders in their own industries and serve as high-level alumni advisers to the campus.

“Professor Hardy’s research rose to the top of three highly competitive rounds of review. Her work exemplifies the outstanding translational research for which our faculty are well known,” says Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.

“We had two purposes in establishing the Mahoney Life Sciences Prize,” said Richard Mahoney, former president and CEO of Monsanto. “To let science-based companies see the extraordinary R&D being done in their field by UMass scientists and to show the UMass scientists that the corporate life sciences community places a high value on research that they can use to solve problems or provide future growth opportunities.”

Hardy has been working for more than a decade to understand an important protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease, called caspase-6. People with Alzheimer’s disease have tangles associated with the neurons of their brains and evidence points to the caspase-6 protein as being responsible for creating those tangles. In her most recent research, Hardy used a new approach to reveal “distinct conformational dynamics in critical regions of the caspase-6 structure” that had not been observable by any other techniques. As a result, she said, these new findings shed more light on caspase-6’s mechanisms, and the changes they describe “may inspire approaches for manipulating caspase-6 in the context of neurodegeneration.”

Insights from this study have allowed the Hardy Lab to develop new chemicals, targeting caspase-6 without affecting other caspases. This development represents a pivotal step forward toward treating Alzheimer’s disease with caspase-6 inhibitors.

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