Sebahattin Cirak, pending assistant professor at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was awarded an MDA development grant totaling $180,000 over a period of three years to hunt for elusive genes that cause congenital muscular dystrophy (CMD) and limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD).
Though CMD and LGMD are different diseases, they are similar in one respect: Both can be caused by a variety of different mutations in the same gene, and about half the time, the causative mutations are unknown.
New mutation hunting techniques have become available in the past several years that allow researchers to find gene mutations by examining the gene’s “messenger,” called RNA. Genes carry the instructions for making a new protein. To do so, a gene creates a “working copy” of itself using RNA. By carefully analyzing that RNA with a variety of techniques, it is possible to discover new gene mutations.
Cirak will use RNA extracted from muscle biopsies of people with CMD or LGMD. “I hope to uncover these elusive mutations by studying RNA, using the latest available sequencing technology,” he says.
“This research will improve the methods for molecular diagnostics of the muscular dystrophies,” he adds, with the goal of providing more families with the knowledge of the cause of their disease. In addition, the discovery of new genes can reveal new information about the exact causes of the disease, potentially suggesting new avenues for developing treatments.
Funding for this MDA grant began Feb. 1, 2013.