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New equipment brightens the outlook for ataxia research

The Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center (BAARC) board illuminated ataxia research at the University of Minnesota in January when it voted to purchase the $140‚000 Xenogen imaging system‚ a technology that uses luminescence to monitor the health of cells and assess the effectiveness of various therapies‚ including treatments for ataxia.

Here’s how it works: Researchers bioengineer the cells they want to observe to produce luceriferase‚ the same enzyme that makes fireflies light up the night‚ says John Ohlfest, Ph.D., director of the gene therapy program in the Department of Neurosurgery.

When they inject the cells into animal models‚ the cells glow. The Xenogen system’s computer imaging technology observes and quantifies the light signals that the luceriferase-producing cells emit‚ allowing researchers to monitor various processes‚ such as what effect a certain therapy may have on the neurons that die in a person with ataxia.

Improving core labs is one of the BAARC board’s highest priorities. “One way to accelerate research is to put better tools into researchers’ hands‚ but getting grant dollars for that equipment is increasingly difficult‚” explains Ohlfest. “The purchase of this system represents BAARC’s first major step toward funding state-of-the-art research equipment to support core laboratories. In doing so‚ BAARC is creating the greatest impact for research‚ not just in ataxia but for Parkinson’s disease and other diseases as well.”

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