Christine DiDonato, assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill., was awarded an MDA research grant totaling $405,000 over a period of three years to test treatment strategies for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
SMA is due to the loss of SMN protein, caused by a mutation in the SMN1 gene. Replacing the SMN1 gene, or increasing production from a usually silent "backup" copy of the gene called SMN2, both hold promise for treatment. However, DiDonato says, “it is currently unknown how late in the disease process such therapies can be beneficial, in terms of either improving function or halting disease progression.”
Her research will address that question in a mouse model of the disease by determining the latest time at which SMN protein can be re-introduced and still have effect after disease onset in milder forms of SMA.
In addition, DiDonato says the project “will specifically determine if therapies that only increase SMN within the nervous system can correct all deficits in milder forms of SMA. This research has important implications for SMA therapy development,” since diagnosis of the disease often occurs months or years after birth.
DiDonato will measure strength, endurance and gait in mice that begin SMN protein production at various time points. Using these techniques, she will ask “whether we can halt, slow or reverse disease progression when SMN is returned after symptoms are clearly evident, and at advancing points of disease.”
She notes that “great strides have been made in SMA research and therapeutic development. There are now several drugs that have entered clinical trials for SMA, so it is a very exciting time. Our research will provide important information for SMN-based therapies for milder forms of SMA.”
Funding for this MDA grant began Feb. 1, 2013.