MDA awarded $408,915 to Carmen Bertoni, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, to continue research into DNA repair strategies in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
Bertoni's research group has pioneered a technology that uses small molecules called single-stranded oligonucleotides, or ssODNs, to act directly on the source of the problem in DMD: the "genetic blueprint," or DNA. In people with DMD, the DNA that makes up the dystrophin gene contains errors that lead to missing or nonfunctional dystrophin protein.
"We use ssODNs to let the muscle know of those errors and give the opportunity to each cell that composes muscles to correct the mistake," Bertoni said. The fix is permanent, negating the need for ongoing treatment.
The process involves injection of the oligonucleotide into muscle, where it seeks the flawed region of DNA and highlights the specific error. The cell is alerted to the presence of the genetic defect, and activates the repair process to correct the flaw.
To date, the main limitation of ssODN-mediated gene correction has been the low frequency of gene repair. Bertoni's group aims to increase the strategy's efficiency to generate levels of gene repair that are clinically meaningful as a viable treatment for DMD.
The group will test the oligonucleotides first in muscle cells and then, once investigators have optimized the structure, in dystrophin deficient mice.
"MDA has had and continues to have a pivotal role in the development of this technology for the treatment of DMD," Bertoni said. "Without any question, the advance of clinical applications to DMD using ssODNs heavily relies on the help that continues to be received by the MDA. It is a great honor to be part of the numerous and extremely talented scientists that are supported by the Association."
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2010.