Muscular Dystrophy Association Funds ALS Research at UK

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The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) awarded Haining Zhu, a professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, a three-year, $300,000 grant to study the underlying mechanisms of ALS.

In an effort to accelerate treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases, the MDA distributed $10 million in grants this summer to scientists conducting significant research on muscular dystrophy, ALS and other muscle-debilitating diseases. Zhu’s research seeks to understand the mutations of the Fused in Sarcoma (FUS) gene, which is a known cause of ALS. He was one of 36 international researchers — and the only researcher in Kentucky — selected for MDA funding.

Zhu and his laboratory team will use MDA funding to build upon recent findings in the study of FUS protein modification and dysfunction occurring in ALS patients. At the cellular level, aberrant modifications of the FUS protein result in toxicity and neuronal death, which ultimately leads to ALS. Zhu and his collaborator Dr. Jianhang Jia, who is also a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, and other colleagues are testing whether inhibiting the modification will reverse the effect by reducing toxicity and preventing neuronal death.

Zhu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China. He received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2000 and joined the University of Kentucky in 2002.

“We are grateful that MDA is willing to support this research in the early stages of development,” Zhu said. “This grant will enable us to build upon these initial findings to better understand the disease and to develop future therapies.”

MDA is the world’s leading nonprofit health agency dedicated to saving and improving the lives of people with muscle disease, including muscular dystrophy, ALS and other neuromuscular diseases. It does so by funding worldwide research to find treatments and cures; by providing comprehensive health care services and support to MDA families nationwide; and by rallying communities to fight back through advocacy, fundraising and local engagement. The MDA has contributed to 30 clinical trials in the past year alone for novel drugs and other therapies aimed at treating a broad spectrum of neuromuscular diseases.

MEDIA CONTACT: Elizabeth Adams, elizabethadams@uky.edu

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