Sonia Vallabh, PhDGroup Leader at Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard
Sonia Vallabh and Eric Minikel are a husband-wife team who co-run a prion research laboratory at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Both earned their PhDs in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Harvard Medical School in 2019. Sonia and Eric left their previous careers to devote their lives to biomedical research after learning in 2011 that Sonia had inherited from her mother a mutation that causes genetic prion disease. At the Broad Institute, they work on prion disease drug discovery, genetics, and biomarker development, with the goal of enabling drugs to be tested for their ability to prevent or delay, as well as treat, prion disease.
Genetic prion diseases are universally fatal and currently untreatable. Onset ranges from age 18 to 80, but is usually in midlife. At the time they received this news, Sonia and Eric were in completely non-scientific fields: Sonia was a recent law school graduate, and Eric was an urban planner. In the wake of their genetic test report, the couple embarked on an educational crusade, reading about prion diseases, meeting researchers, and enrolling in biology night classes. They left their careers for research jobs at Massachusetts General Hospital. In mid-2012 they founded Prion Alliance with the mission of facilitating the development of a treatment or cure for prion diseases, by raising funds for research, advocating, and connecting patients and researchers.
More information about Sonia and Eric:
• Prion Alliance and how to support the cause: www.prionalliance.org
• The Prions@Broad initiative at the Broad Institute: broad.io/prions
• ""A husband and wife's race to cure her fatal genetic disease,"" Kathleen Burge, Boston Globe Magazine, February 17, 2016."