David Bennett, from Rush University in Chicago, will receive the Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s, and Related Diseases at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Los Angeles in April. In awarding the prize, AAN and the American Brain Foundation recognize Bennett for decades of research into memory loss and dementia. Donations from the Potamkin family of New York, Philadelphia, and Miami have supported the $100,000 prize since 1988.

Bennett has been a driving force in curating and analyzing data from two major natural history studies of aging and dementia—the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project. The former began enrolling healthy nuns, priests, and other individuals from religious communities in 1994, and follows them until death with a variety of cognitive, medical, and autopsy analyses (Bennett et al., 2011). The complementary Memory and Aging Project began enrolling people from a wider swath of life in 1997 and follows a similar protocol (Bennett et al., 2012). 

Together, the two studies have provided a wealth of information on factors that influence the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Bennett and colleagues found that cognitively normal older people can harbor the two neuropathological hallmarks of AD, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, providing some of the first evidence that AD begins decades before symptom onset (Jul 2006 news on Bennett et al., 2006). They also helped solidify the theory of cognitive reserve, namely that people who achieve higher levels of education are better protected against such pathology (Wilson et al., 2002; Bennett et al., 2003). 

ROSMAP studies have also defined and refined how cardiovascular disease, ApoE genotype, other genetic risk variants, and lifestyle factors influence cognition and dementia (Bennett et al., 2004; Schneider et al., 2003; Bennett et al., 2003; Lim et al., 2013; Yu et al., 2017). Working with the NIH Roadmap Epigenetic Project, Bennett has begun to untangle the complex relationships between DNA modification and expression of genes linked to AD such as SORL1, BIN1 and ABCA7 (Aug 2014 news; Nov 2014 news). 

As a leader of the NIH Accelerated Medicines Partnership, Bennett has taken a systems biology approach to mine the richness of the ROSMAP data set to try to uncover new therapeutic targets for AD (Nov 2014 news).—Tom Fagan


  1. This is a richly deserved award. David has been a leader in community studies on dementia and normal aging for many years. Together with his talented colleagues Julie Schneider, Bob Wilson, Lisa Barnes, and others, the Rush group has set a high standard for research on disease progression and clinical-pathological correlations.

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News Citations

  1. Subtle Forgetfulness in Cognitively Normal Elderly—A Foreshadowing of AD?
  2. Alzheimer’s Brains Mottled with Epigenetic Changes
  3. Epigenetic Alterations Mark Alzheimer’s Disease Genes
  4. New Initiative AMPs Up Alzheimer’s Research

Paper Citations

  1. . Overview and Findings from the Religious Orders Study. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2011 Apr 2; PubMed.
  2. . Overview and Findings From the Rush Memory and Aging Project. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2012 Apr 2; PubMed.
  3. . Neuropathology of older persons without cognitive impairment from two community-based studies. Neurology. 2006 Jun 27;66(12):1837-44. PubMed.
  4. . Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. JAMA. 2002 Feb 13;287(6):742-8. PubMed.
  5. . Education modifies the relation of AD pathology to level of cognitive function in older persons. Neurology. 2003 Jun 24;60(12):1909-15. PubMed.
  6. . Cerebral infarctions and the relationship of depression symptoms to level of cognitive functioning in older persons. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2004 Mar-Apr;12(2):211-9. PubMed.
  7. . Relation of cerebral infarctions to dementia and cognitive function in older persons. Neurology. 2003 Apr 8;60(7):1082-8. PubMed.
  8. . Apolipoprotein E epsilon4 allele, AD pathology, and the clinical expression of Alzheimer's disease. Neurology. 2003 Jan 28;60(2):246-52. PubMed.
  9. . Modification of the relationship of the apolipoprotein E ε4 allele to the risk of Alzheimer disease and neurofibrillary tangle density by sleep. JAMA Neurol. 2013 Dec;70(12):1544-51. PubMed.
  10. . TOMM40'523 variant and cognitive decline in older persons with APOE ε3/3 genotype. Neurology. 2017 Feb 14;88(7):661-668. Epub 2017 Jan 20 PubMed.

Further Reading