Vol. 12 No. 8 - March, 2010

Robert Brown receives $800,000 grant for ALS research collaboration

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Robert Carlin Photography
Robert Brown, MD, DPhil

As part of an effort to accelerate scientific research toward a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis  or ALS), a degenerative neurological disorder, Robert Brown, MD, DPhil, chair and professor of neurology, received an $800,000 grant from P2 ALS to investigate the use of RNA biology in ALS research and therapies. P2 ALS is a three-year, $15 million joint venture between Project ALS and the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins University aimed at fostering collaboration among research scientists and physicians in the quest to cure ALS.

“At UMMS there is a wonderful propensity for the basic scientists to allow those of us working in the clinical world to pick their brains so we can better understand diseases like ALS,” said Dr. Brown. “This grant helps take some of the ideas we’ve been talking about and move them forward by developing a core facility for genetic study.”

It's very exciting for us to think about

the possibilities of combining the leading experts in the field of RNA research and gene silencing with the leading figure in the field of ALS genetics.

Valerie Estess, director of research for Project ALS

Brown and colleagues at the UMMS RNA Therapeutics Institute (RTI), will use the funds to screen new methods of delivering small RNA molecules to the central nervous system as well as test the effectiveness of the administered small RNAs. One of the leading researchers in the field of ALS genetics, Brown identified the first gene linked to familial ALS in 1993. Since then he has uncovered several gene mutations linked to ALS, including last year’s discovery of the FUS/TLS gene mutation. The publication of that discovery was named a “New Hot Paper” in the field of neuroscience and behavior by Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch, a distinction given to papers most cited in their disciplines.

Scientists believe RNA interference, with its ability to create and regulate the complex patterns of gene expression, holds immense potential as a therapeutic for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, which affect the motor neurons in the central nervous system.

“It's very exciting for us to think about the possibilities of combining the leading experts in the field of RNA research and gene silencing with the leading figure in the field of ALS genetics,” said Valerie Estess, director of research for Project ALS. “The field of gene silencing holds tremendous promise and we’re excited to be steering that promise to finding a cure for this disease.”