Friday, April 4th, 2008
Coldwater native, scientist receives $4.5 M to study neurodegenerative disorders
By William Kincaid
As a child, Coldwater native Eric Kremer had big dreams about his future: he wanted to be, like most young boys, a professional basketball or baseball player.
Second on his list was a scientist. Lucky for his research staff of 150 in a medium-sized lab in France, he couldn't dribble left-handed or hit a curve ball.
"I made the big decision when I was 5 years old," Kremer, 46, said in an e-mail to The Daily Standard from France. "There was never much of an option and the choice was easy."
Now a scientist and director of research for Inserm - a French institute for biomedical research - Kremer and his colleagues are turning viruses into tools to treat brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease.
"We try to understand how a virus interacts with cells, and in turn how this affects an organism as a whole," Kremer, a 1979 Coldwater High School graduate, said.
Kremer was recently allocated a $4.5 million grant from The European Union (EU) to continue developing gene transfer tools to combat the degenerative monsters of the brain.
"We try to make the virus inoffensive and then use it to treat diseases, like in this proposal just accepted," he said. "Sometimes we have the luxury of asking questions that we don't know where the answers will lead - this is commonly referred to as basic science."
The EU, Kremer said, tries to identify health problems and then asks scientists, companies and individuals to come up with solutions. Kremer said he responded to the EU's study request - for nonhuman adenovirus vectors for gene transfer to the central nervous system - with a grant proposal. He was then awarded the grant, which he said is funded through EU taxes.
"Hopefully at the end of the four years we will be able to propose a safe and affective treatment for some diseases that affect the brain," he said. "These are rare orphan diseases (that) most pharmaceutical firms aren't interested in because they'll never be able to make money from the treatment."
His work also will address Parkinson's disease and could possibly touch on many other diseases and fields, he said.
Kremer, who received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina, said he also counsels senior scientists, teaches undergraduate classes, gives talks to colleagues, tutors post-doctoral students and trains students pursuing their doctorate degree.
While at work, Kremer said he speaks in French 75 percent of time, but occasionally uses English.
"I still prefer English, but my first reflex is to speak to people I don't know in French," he said.
He also understands some Spanish, as well as many Greek words - those dealing almost exclusively with food.
When asked how in the world he ended up in France, Kremer said his profession can take a practitioner anywhere in the world.
"I spent four years in Australia doing a post-doctoral period before (I) decided that there was too much to learn in the rest of the world before I could go back to the U.S.A.," he said. "France has a mix of culture, weather, economy and science that was the most attractive for me. I stayed because I like the French mentality."
While in Australia, Kremer said he worked on the genetics of the most common form of inherited mental retardation - Fragile X Syndrome. He moved to France in 1993.
He now lives near Montpellier, France, with his girlfriend of 15 years, and has a son. Kremer is the son of Ray and Jeanene Kremer.