College of Medicine researcher gets neuroscience research grant

12-Aug-2015 - USA

University of Florida Health researcher Laura P.W. Ranum, Ph.D., has won a prestigious Javits neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study an inherited central nervous system disease.

Named for the late U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits, the award offers up to seven years of research funding to scientists “who have a distinguished record of substantial contributions in a field of neurological science and who can be expected to be highly productive,” according to the institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

The four-year, $2.5 million grant, which can be renewed for three additional years, will be used to conduct research on spinocerebellar ataxia type 8, said Ranum, director of the Center for NeuroGenetics and a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology.

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 8 is a genetic disorder that impairs nerve fibers carrying messages to and from the brain, according to the National Ataxia Foundation. The disease causes balance and coordination problems, slow and drawn-out speech as well as difficulty swallowing as it progresses. The disorder affects about one out of every 100,000 people.

Ranum studies genetic mutations that cause neurologic diseases such as ataxia, myotonic dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Many of these diseases are caused when three or more letters of the genetic code are repeated. Ranum’s lab showed that these expanded stretches of repeat DNA can cause cells to make unexpected and unwanted proteins, which can accumulate in patients’ brains.  Her group is now investigating how these proteins are made and developing ways to block their production.

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