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BAARC grant allows expansion of vast DNA library

A $100,000 grant from the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center is making possible a University of Minnesota resource that could help researchers solve the mysteries of a debilitating neuromuscular disease.

The funding will allow researchers to collect and store DNA samples from thousands of people with hereditary ataxia. Laura Ranum, Ph.D.

“Our primary purpose in creating the library is to try to understand the big picture of the genetic causes of ataxia,” says Laura Ranum, Ph.D., who oversees the project.

The library will build upon an international DNA collection from ataxia patients and their families begun some 20 years ago, after the initial discovery of mutated genes that caused a few types of inherited ataxia. Analyzing the samples in the DNA library can help investigators discover the underlying mechanisms of other types of ataxia.

“The exciting thing is that whenever a disease-causing gene is discovered, we have something concrete to use in understanding how the disease works at the cellular level,” Ranum says. “And we can look for similar mechanisms in other genes.”

The library can illuminate the study of other genetic diseases as well. “These ataxia mutations affect very few families, so they haven’t traditionally been the focus of large efforts to move genetics forward,” she adds. “But we can use the ataxia collection to advance the study of genetics and biology in general.”

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