A Tribute to Dr. Michael Harpold

Categories: Ds Research, News

Scientist, Advocate and Friend


Dr. Michael Harpold was Chief Scientific Officer of the LuMind Research Down Syndrome Foundation, and served as Chair of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board since its inauguration in 2006. He was involved with LuMind since 2005, and served as member of the Board of Directors (2006-2010), Chief Executive Officer (2007-2010), and Chief Scientific Officer (2011-2017). Dr. Harpold passed away on March 15, 2017, leaving a legacy of tenacity and spirit that continues to burn brightly in the comprehensive portfolio of research that is carried on to meaningfully improve memory, cognition, and independence in individuals with Down syndrome.

HarpoldR101-LuMind-2016-66-(ZF-9727-04935-1-169)800wMany of you may have participated in one of Dr. Harpold’s passionate presentations on the importance of Down syndrome research. Even if you didn’t know him, most of you were touched by his legacy of leadership that steered this organization to fund groundbreaking research with unprecedented results. Dr. Harpold was a scientist, an advocate, and most importantly, a friend to individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Dr. Harpold recognized that there was an urgency to pursuing Down syndrome research because this community had been overlooked for too long. He was the architect behind the Scientific Advisory Board to ensure that we were funding evidence-based research with real potential for safe and effective therapies because he cared about the outcomes for individuals and families.

From left: Dr. Reeves, Dr. Harpold, Dr. Raafi

Under Dr. Michael Harpold’s scientific leadership, the organization has led the nation in funding transformative cognition research focused on intellectual disability and Alzheimer’s disease in individuals with Down syndrome. Initial grant-funded research resulted in breakthrough discoveries of specific novel mechanisms responsible for cognitive impairments in Down syndrome and pursuit of new therapeutic approaches. As an example, the first LuMind RDS grant in 2004 awarded to Dr. William Mobley and a team at Stanford University discovered that the APP gene is linked to the cognitive impairment in Down syndrome, similar to its link to the cognitive decline experienced in Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery subsequently led to the initiation of a Phase IB clinical trial at UCSD supported by LuMind RDS in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Swiss biopharmaceutical company AC Immune that is investigating a novel therapeutic agent targeting earlier-onset Alzheimer’s disease specifically in individuals with Down syndrome.
Dr. Harpold was a firm believer that every person living with Ds deserves a bright future, filled with limitless possibilities and the ability to become more independent. His legacy will be celebrated with every advancement in the lab, every clinical trial and every therapy that is realized because of this research.

“Michael’s passion and influence was unmatched and he confronted the challenges of advancing Down syndrome research by dispelling long-held myths and presumptions about their potential. He spoke to public health institutions, Pharma leaders and research societies and vigorously raised awareness of the importance and value of funding Down syndrome research,” expressed Ryan Hartman, LuMind RDS Board Chair, “He influenced so many to collaborate and increase support for Down syndrome research.”


Prior to joining LuMind RDS, Dr. Harpold was already a veteran in the scientific circles. Dr. Harpold had more than 35 years’ experience in biomedical research within both academia and the biotechnology industry. Dr. Harpold established EnkephaSys, Inc. as a consultant on research, business, and intellectual property issues for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. In addition, Dr. Harpold was a founding member and an executive of The Salk Institute Biotechnology/Industrial Associates, Inc. (subsequently SIBIA Neurosciences, Inc.), a biotechnology and pharmaceutical company in La Jolla, CA. There he served for 17 years as the company’s Vice President, Research through its IPO and prior to its acquisition by Merck.

A distinguished molecular and cellular biologist, Dr. Harpold received his Ph.D. in molecular and developmental biology from Tulane University. He conducted postdoctoral research in molecular cell biology as a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at The Rockefeller University in New York. Subsequently, Dr. Harpold was a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry, USC Keck School of Medicine and Member of the Norris/USC Comprehensive Cancer Center, following which he held a senior research appointment with La Jolla Biological Laboratories of The Salk Institute. Dr. Harpold’s research has involved diverse problems in molecular biology, biotechnology, and biomedical science, including significant contributions to research in molecular signaling in the nervous system as well as drug discovery primarily focused on disorders of the nervous system. He is the author of numerous scientific research publications and his work has led to 47 issued U.S. patents as well as an extensive set of foreign patents.

Dr. Harpold’s family is planning a memorial service for late spring. Additional details will follow. They have asked that you kindly direct all correspondence to harpoldmemorial@gmail.com.

Memorial Gift Donation Link