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Fen-Biao Gao receives Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

January 02, 2018

Fen-Biao Gao, PhD, the Governor Paul Cellucci Chair in Neuroscience Research and vice chair of research and professor of neurology, was selected to receive a Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, a conditional seven-year, $4.16 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Dr. Gao is investigating frontotemporal dementia (FTD), an age-dependent neurodegenerative condition associated with focal atrophy of the frontal or temporal lobes and recognized now as the most common form of dementia before the age of 60 and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Progress has been made in identifying genetic mutations that cause ALS and FTD, but how these changes affect neurons and cause toxicity is still poorly understood. Gao has uncovered new information about how and why these genetic mutations cause disease. Since joining UMMS in 2010, Gao’s lab has elucidated new connections between FTD and ALS, which have clinical, molecular and genetic overlaps, including one single gene that is directly linked to both conditions. Gao is working to advance understanding of these common molecular mechanisms that lead to neuronal degeneration and death.

“It’s important to identify common downstream pathways that affect both diseases. Understanding how these mutations lead to motor neuron damage is important to the development of new treatment approaches,” said Gao.

The Javits award was established in 1983 to honor the late Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY), who suffered from ALS. Senator Javits was a strong advocate for support of research in a wide variety of disorders of the brain and nervous system. Since the establishment of the program, approximately 580 awards have been made in his name. Javits awardees must have demonstrated exceptional scientific excellence and productivity in one of the areas of neurological research supported by the NINDS, have proposals of the highest scientific merit and be judged highly likely to be able to continue to do research on the cutting edge of their science for the next seven years.

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