Ellen Barrett, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Miami (Florida) Miller School of Medicine was awarded an MDA grant totaling $297,102 over three years. The funds will support Barrett's study of the disease process and potential therapies in familial, or inherited, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
It has been observed in some cases of ALS that motor nerve terminals (the part of the motor neuron, or nerve cell that conveys signals from the brain to muscles) deteriorate prior to the death of the motor neuron cell body.
In previous studies, Barrett and colleagues have demonstrated that motor nerve terminal health relies heavily on the proper function of cellular "energy factories" called mitochondria. The team also has found that mitochondrial function in motor nerve terminals is impaired in presymptomatic mice with an ALS-like disease, and that it worsens as the mice age and begin to show symptoms.
In her new work, Barrett will test various mitochondria-protective drugs in a research mouse model of ALS and then observe whether more motor terminals remain intact and functional in mice that receive treatment versus mice that do not.
Results from this work may point the way toward a therapeutic strategy involving a combination of treatments: some designed to protect mitochondria and preserve motor nerve terminals, and others targeted toward preservation of motor neuron cell bodies.
"MDA funding has been critical to research progress in our laboratory," Barrett said. "We have especially appreciated MDA’s (1) willingness to support basic as well as clinical research with relevance to neuromuscular diseases; (2) support for pilot projects investigating new research directions; and (3) excellent reviewers, who have always read our grant applications carefully and offered valuable suggestions."
Funding for this MDA grant began February 1, 2011.