MDA awarded a grant totaling $347,832 to Shanthini Sockanathan, associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, for research into the molecular causes of nerve cell, or motor neuron, degeneration in diseases including ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
Sockanathan and colleagues will study the Gde2 mouse, a new model of motor neuron degeneration that they developed based on studies of the maturation, or "differentiation," of motor neurons in embryonic mouse spinal cords.
The Gde2 mouse lacks a protein called GDE2. Mouse embryos lacking the protein possess significantly decreased numbers of motor neurons, but at birth they contain numbers of these cells equivalent to those of control mice. As adults, the Gde2 mice experience a significant loss of motor neurons, with the remaining nerve cells indicating progressive degeneration.
In their new work, the investigators will study the physical and biological characteristics of Gde2 mice, and monitor the progression of motor neuron degeneration in older animals. Because the GDE2 protein normally is active in both differentiating and fully matured motor neurons, the team plans to remove it in mice at different times during development to determine at which stage or stages GDE2 loss causes degeneration.
"MDA's clear commitment to funding basic research projects has been instrumental in my ability to develop and maintain an active research program dedicated to understanding the mechanisms of neuronal differentiation," Sockanathan said. "Indeed, my first grant as an independent investigator was from MDA, and this funding helped me establish my research program and, importantly, provided me with the flexibility to chart a new direction in my work. Over the years, I have been fortunate to receive more funding from MDA, and in each case this funding has helped me broaden my research program in novel areas."
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2010.