MDA awarded $294,183 over three years to Vasanthi Jayaraman, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The funds will help support Jayaraman’s study of the molecular mechanisms underlying motor neuron death in ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
Jayaraman is particularly interested in a type of glutamate receptor known as calcium-permeable AMPA receptors. These cause toxicity and are thought to be a major trigger for selective motor neuron death and the resulting loss of muscle control in ALS.
Although AMPA receptor inhibitors have been shown to consistently decrease neuronal death in experimental models and increase survival time in a mouse model of ALS, they’ve not been tried in the clinic.
The challenge her research team has taken on, Jayaraman said, is to develop AMPA receptor antagonists that prevent activation of the calcium-permeable AMPA receptors without causing harmful side effects or affecting the function of other subtypes of glutamate receptors.
“With the funds provided by the Muscular Dystrophy Association,” Jayaraman said, “we are in a position to show the feasibility of these projects, which we believe will have high rewards in terms of being able to develop therapeutic agents toward ALS.”
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2011.