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BAARC board awards more than $240,000 for ataxia studies

Exciting. Promising. Leading-edge. These are a few of the ways to describe the four University of Minnesota research projects that recently received funding from the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center. The organization’s board of directors granted more than $240,000 total to these scientists:

Timothy Ebner, M.D., Ph.D., $92,600

Ebner’s group hopes to discover what happens in the brain’s cerebellum during the motor attacks associated with episodic ataxia type 2 using optogenetics—a tool that allows researchers to “turn off” or “turn on” neurons using light. Ebner hopes the study will provide new knowledge on how the disease occurs and possibly insight into new therapeutic approaches.

Isabelle Iltis, Ph.D., $49,855

Iltis will use MR spectroscopy to noninvasively examine the spinal cords of people who have Friedreich’s ataxia as well as healthy subjects to characterize differences between them. She expects that this comparison will help her group identify potential biomarkers for the disease, which would allow researchers to more objectively monitor the effects of potential treatments in clinical trials.

Bharat Thyagarajan, M.D., Ph.D., $49,995

Thyagarajan’s team will evaluate a new technology called Next Generation Sequencing, which allows for cost-effective DNA analysis, in diagnosing rare types of ataxia. The group plans to develop computer algorithms to detect large deletions or duplications of DNA, which have been shown to cause a subset of ataxias.

Christophe Lenglet, Ph.D., $48,624

Lenglet’s group will use combined diffusion MR imaging and spectroscopy to study the degeneration of specific pathways in the cerebellum noninvasively. It will examine microstructural integrity and connectivity in the brain to discover differences between healthy subjects and ataxia patients—and among patients with different types of ataxia—to better understand how the disease progresses.

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