MDA has awarded a research grant totaling $450,000 over three years to Jon Lindstrom, professor of neuroscience and pharmacology at the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The new funds will help support Lindstrom’s continued efforts to develop an immunosuppressive therapy for myasthenia gravis (MG).
MG is caused by an immune system attack, via antibodies, on acetylcholine receptors in muscle. The attack leads to the degradation and loss of the acetylcholine receptors, disrupting communication between nerves and muscles. The cause of the disease is unknown.
Lindstrom and colleagues are working on the continued development of a specific immunosuppressive therapy for MG, which they developed using a rat research model of the disease. The team will continue testing the therapy while working in parallel to determine the mechanisms by which it works.
Current therapies for MG compensate for the loss of acetylcholine receptors by using inhibitors to block the enzyme that destroys acetylcholine, along with drugs that cause massive suppression of all, or nearly all, immune responses.
In contrast, the therapy under development by Lindstrom's team is designed to target only the immune system attack on acetylcholine receptors. Such a therapy is expected to be more effective than those in use now and likely would preclude some of their known side effects.
Results of Lindstrom’s work may lead to further insight into the MG disease process and inform researchers’ efforts at therapy development.
"Support from the MDA has been important to my career from its very beginning when we first discovered EAMG and made progress in understanding its nature," Lindstrom said. "Hopefully, this new support from the MDA will help us go full circle, from helping to discover the autoimmune nature of the disease to helping to discover how to specifically suppress the autoimmune response in MG."
Funding for this MDA grant began February 1, 2011.