Emmanuel Mignot, MD, PhD, the Craig Reynolds Professor of Rest Medication, is the winner of a 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Everyday living Sciences. He will share the $3 million prize with Masashi Yanagisawa, MD, PhD, of the College of Tsukuba for discovering the brings about of narcolepsy and paving the way for new treatments for sleep conditions.  

“I became intrigued in narcolepsy simply because I imagined it was a vital to comprehending slumber, and due to the fact it had this human dimension of seeking to enable individuals with this condition that no one cared about,” Mignot reported. “When I started off finding out narcolepsy, people considered it was extremely unusual. No one knew about it.”

The Breakthrough Prize acknowledges best researchers for their activity-shifting discoveries in the fields of lifestyle sciences, fundamental physics and arithmetic. Approximately $16 million was awarded this calendar year.

“For so a lot of a long time, the neurological mechanisms that bring about narcolepsy ended up a complete secret to the healthcare local community,” explained Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford College of Medication. “Dr. Mignot’s analysis not only unearthed the protein at the centre of this secret but also led to effective therapies and therapies for persons struggling from the ailment. By means of his amazing do the job, Dr. Mignot forever altered the field of rest medicine and, in undertaking so, opened the doorway for much more discoveries across a wide range of neurodegenerative health conditions.” 

Hunting for a narcolepsy gene in puppies

Mignot has committed his job to knowledge and treating narcolepsy and other rest disorders. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterised by intense sleepiness and fast changeover into REM slumber, the snooze period in which dreams come about.

People with narcolepsy contend with unexpected bouts of sleepiness and muscle mass weakness, acknowledged as cataplexy, that can be brought on by potent psychological enjoyment. The ailment, which impacts about 1 in 2,000 persons, is typically identified concerning childhood and younger adulthood.

“Through unflinching curiosity and persistence, Dr. Mignot and his colleagues led the way to a discovery that would change the life of tens of millions of folks around the world struggling with narcolepsy’s horrible and unpredictable effects,” explained Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Stanford University. “Groundbreaking, life-modifying investigate like this is what we strive to allow each and every working day at Stanford. I’m very pleased to congratulate Dr. Mignot, who so deeply deserves this recognition.”

Mignot’s curiosity in finding out narcolepsy began in 1986, when he certain the French federal government that, as portion of his obligatory armed forces service, he should be sent to Stanford Drugs to examine a drug for narcolepsy that experienced been formulated by a French enterprise. Doing work in the lab of the late William Dement, MD, PhD, who was recognised as the father of sleep drugs, Mignot researched the drug modafinil and showed that it worked in a way comparable to amphetamines by escalating dopamine concentrations in the mind.

The experience certain Mignot that narcolepsy was a tractable issue that could be recognized and solved — he was hooked. Irrespective of not getting a school placement or grants to assist his work, he resigned from his professorship in France and continued his research at Stanford Medicine. In 1989, he embarked on a project to uncover the gene that triggers narcolepsy in dogs. It was a bold technique at the time, one particular yr just before the Human Genome Undertaking was even underway.

“Probably it was a minor little bit of naivete simply because I was not a geneticist. I was experienced as a psychiatrist, but I turned a geneticist,” he claimed. “It took me 10 a long time to come across the gene.”