Keynote Presentation
"Transmission of Misfolded Proteins in Neurodegenerative Disorders:

A Common Mechanism of Disease Progression"

Dr. V. Lee

Virginia M. -Y. Lee, PhD, MBA
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Philadelphia, PA

Dr. Virginia M. -Y. Lee, is the John H. Ware 3rd Professor in Alzheimer's Research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She studied music at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1962-1964), obtained an MS in Biochemistry from the University of London (1968), and received her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Francisco in 1973. Dr. Lee did postdoctoral studies in pharmacology at the Rudolf Magnus Institute at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands (1973-1974) and in experimental neuropathology at Children's Hospital Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston (1974-1979) after which she became Associate Senior Research Investigator at Smith-Kline & French, Inc. in Philadelphia from 1979-1980. She joined the faculty of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in 1981 where she rose to the rank of professor in 1989. Dr. Lee completed the Executive MBA program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1982-1984), and obtained her MBA degree in 1984. Currently, she is Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and Co-director of the Marian S. Ware Alzheimer Drug Discovery Program at Penn. Dr. Lee received the Metropolitan Life Foundation Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease (1991, 1996), the Potamkin Prize for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease (1998), the Bristol-Myers Squibb Biomedical Research Grant in Neuroscience Research (2003), the 24​th​ Annual Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award in Neuropsychiatry Research (2012), the John Scott Award (2012) and the 2004 J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine, Molecular Basis of Neurological Disorders from the Robarts Institute, London, Ontario, Canada. She was a member of the National Advisory Council on Aging (NIA) and the NIA Board of Scientific Counselors and was elected to the Institute of Medicine (2006) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2013).

Dr. Lee’s research focuses on proteins that form pathological inclusions in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and related neurodegenerative disorders. Her work demonstrated that tau, alpha-synuclein and TDP-43 proteins form unique inclusions in neurodegenerative diseases and that aggregation of these proteins is a common mechanistic theme in AD, PD, FTLD, ALS and related disorders. Significantly, Dr. Lee’s studies implicated the abnormal aggregation of tau, alpha-synuclein and TDP-43 in mechanisms that compromise neuronal viability. Major accomplishments include discovery of tau, alpha-synuclein and TDP-43 as the diseases proteins in AD, PD and ALS/FTD, respectively, elucidating the roles of these proteins in neurodegeneration, pursuing pathological tau as a target for AD and FTD drug discovery, and how the transmission of pathological tau and alpha-synuclein explains the progression of AD and PD. Most importantly, this research has opened up new avenues of research to identify targets for drug discovery to develop better treatments for these disorders. Because of the broad impact of her research, Dr. Lee’s h-index is 158 and she is listed among the 10 most highly cited AD researchers from 1985-2008 (JAD, 16:451-465, 2009) as well as among the top 400 most highly influential biomedical researchers from 1996-2011 (Eur J Clin Invest, 43:1339-1365, 2014). ISI has recognized Dr. Lee as an ISI Highly Cited Researcher which places her in the top 10 most highly cited neuroscientists from 1997 to 2007.

In November, Dr. Lee was awarded a 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.