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New U of M faculty member makes headway against dystonia


New College of Biological Sciences (CBS) faculty member G.W. Gant Luxton is currently making headway in the fight against dystonia, a common movement disorder. But his research holds a special place in his heart beyond simple scientific interest.

Luxton's Uncle Vince and his uncle's mother Gerry both suffered from Parkinson's Disease, a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking and difficulty with movement.

When Luxton was 24, Gerry passed away due to this condition. Coincidentally this was the time when he needed to select a focus area for his research. He chose dystonia, a similar neurological movement order. This area of study would allow him to explore his interest in cell polarity and the cytoskeleton. Currently scientists have identified mutated genes related to different forms of dystonia, but have still not concluded why these mutations result in the disease. Luxton is working to find that out, focusing on the most common and severe form of dystonia, "early onset torsion dystonia," which begins in children when they are just 11-12 years old.

Recently, Luxton was nominated for the Mallinckrodt Foundation award, which provides start-up funding to one junior faculty member in the U.S. every year.

"Grant's nomination reflects the great science he did as a graduate student and a postdoc, and his potential for uncovering a new disease mechanism that will hopefully lead to a treatment for this disease," says Michael O'Connor, head of the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development (where Luxton is a new assistant professor)

"What I really like about working on dystonia is that it allows me to do practical, applied cell biology," Luxton says. "In trying to determine how mutations in dystonia-associated genes disrupt the molecular machinery that controls cell polarity...we hope to better our understanding of this fascinating aspect of basic cell biology."

After graduating from Grinnell and Northwestern he completed postdoctoral research at Columbia, then came to the University of Minnesota in 2011 for one reason. "The department was the biggest draw," he says. "I've got really great colleagues. I feel very supported and I'm really happy to be here."

Source credit: "Moving Ahead," www.cbs.umn.edu

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