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Four interdisciplinary collaborations share mission to demystify devastating brain disorders

UMass Chan research teams receive Dan and Diane Riccio Fund for Neuroscience seed grants

The Dan and Diane Riccio Fund for Neuroscience has awarded four teams of UMass Medical School researchers $50,000 seed grants for interdisciplinary collaborations leading to innovative discoveries that deepen understanding of normal brain function and what goes awry in neurological diseases.

Mark Alkema, PhD
Alexandra Byrne, PhD
Katherine Fitzgerald, PhD
Paul Greer, PhD

Massachusetts natives and UMass graduates Dan and Diane M. (Casey) Riccio, PhD’03, established the fund in 2018 with $1 million to support investigation, collaboration and innovation in the neurosciences throughout UMass Medical School and beyond. The grants are administered by the Department of Neurobiology. The Riccios were awarded honorary degrees at the 48th UMMS Commencement in June, in recognition of their commitment to supporting research and training at the Medical School.

“We are extremely grateful for the support the Riccio family has provided. This fund has been instrumental in fostering interdisciplinary collaborations into diverse areas of neuroscience, with many of the proposals addressing neurological disease-relevant processes,” said David Weaver, PhD, professor of neurobiology and director of the NeuroNexus Institute at UMass Medical School. “The seed grants establish the collaborations and provide data needed to seek federal support for these projects.”

The NeuroNexus Institute was created to catalyze interactions between interdisciplinary teams of basic, translational or clinician scientists in order to accelerate understanding of brain function and the discovery of innovative therapies for neurological conditions. Many Dan and Diane Riccio Fund for Neuroscience grantees are institute faculty members.

​The grants are supporting two new projects and renewing two previous awards:

“How do human microbiota determine neuronal health?” (new)

Mark J. Alkema, PhD, professor of neurobiology and submitting principal investigator, with collaborators Alexandra B. Byrne, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology; Doyle V. Ward, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & physiological systems; and Beth A. McCormick, PhD, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair II and vice-chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems.

“Inhibiting SARM1-mediated neuronal degeneration” (new)

Alexandra B. Byrne, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology and submitting PI, with Read Pukkila-Worley, MD, associate professor of medicine, and Paul R. Thompson, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology.

“Gasdermins as biomarkers and therapeutic targets for multiple sclerosis” (renewal)

Katherine A. Fitzgerald, PhD, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair III, professor of medicine, vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine, director of the Program in Innate Immunity and submitting PI, with Carolina Ionete, MD, PhD, professor of neurology.

"Characterizing CNS myeloid cells in ALS pathogenesis" (renewal)

Paul L. Greer, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine and submitting PI, with Robert H. Brown, Jr., DPhil, MD, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research and professor of neurology.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMass Medical School to award four honorary degrees at 48th Commencement
Dan and Diane Riccio Fund for Neuroscience announces four grants