Eighteen current and former Milton Safenowitz Post-Doctoral Fellows came together recently to discuss their research, form new connections, and further the cause of finding new treatments for ALS. The meeting, held in New York City and hosted by the Greater New York Chapter of The ALS Association, was designed to strengthen the network of young ALS researchers, according to Association Chief Scientist Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., M.B.A.
“Our ability to make progress in ALS depends so much on attracting the best young scientists into the field,” Dr. Bruijn said. “The Milton Safenowitz Post-Doctoral Fellowship is a critical part of that effort. Almost 90 percent of the Fellows stay in ALS research,” and former Fellows make up a significant fraction of the younger generation of ALS researchers.
The prestigious fellowships are offered every year to selected candidates and provide two years of funding for post-doctoral work in the laboratories of senior scientists. The fellowships are funded through the generosity of the Safenowitz family through the Greater New York Chapter and are in memory of Mr. Safenowitz, who died of ALS in 1998.
“We are very grateful for the leadership and generosity of our Board Member, Marilyn Safenowitz, and proud of the role our chapter has played in helping to establish the first ever Fellowship program for ALS research,” said Dorine Gordon, President & CEO of The Association’s Greater New York Chapter.
Other chapters of The ALS Association have also funded Fellows in their local community enabling the expansion of the Fellowship program. These chapters include Arizona; the California Chapters of The ALS Association through the California Tax Check Off program: Greater Sacramento, San Diego, Orange County, and Golden West; Greater Chicago; and Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota through the Leuthold Family Foundation. Support for the Safenowitz Fellowship program has also been provided by Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, Edmund McCurtain, the E.F. Wallengren Fund for ALS Research, and the Robert Luongo ALS Fund.
During the awards presentation’s luncheon, which took place midway through the day-long meeting, Alan Levine, Mr. Safenowitz’s son-in-law and Board Member of the Greater New York Chapter, spoke movingly about the commitment of the family to ALS research and their appreciation for the work of the Fellows and The ALS Association in driving that research.
The luncheon keynote speaker was Bryan Traynor, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging, who described the work of multiple international teams in the discovery of the C9orf72 gene, the most common genetic cause of ALS. Dr. Traynor had the rapt attention of the group of scientists as he described the false starts, the unexpected clues, and the ultimate unraveling of the mystery of the gene.
But the major part of the meeting belonged to the Fellows, several of whom commented on the unique value of the meeting for making connections among other beginning ALS researchers. In the words of one, “It was a terrific opportunity to talk at such length with my peers, to meet everyone, to learn about their work, and consider new collaborations.” These kinds of connections go far to further the cooperative spirit that guides ALS research worldwide.
Each Fellow presented the most recent advances from their ALS research:
Shuying Sun, Ph.D., (2011 Fellow) is looking at gene expression changes in SOD1 mice to determine what causes the selective damage of ALS from a widely expressed gene. Supported by the California Chapters of The ALS Association through the California Tax Check Off program.
Jacob Ayers, Ph.D., (2012 Fellow) is studying the cell-to-cell transmission of toxic misfolded SOD1 protein. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter and Edmund McCurtain.
Dara Ditsworth, Ph.D., (2010 Fellow) is studying the potential of a protein “chaperone” to help prevent or correct misfolding of SOD1 protein.
Regina Kolaitis, Ph.D., (2012 Fellow) is researching RNA granules, subcellular structures that store and transport RNA, that become dysfunctional due to certain ALS mutations. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter and Edmund McCurtain.
Maria Soledad Matus, Ph.D., (2009 Fellow) is looking at how a cellular structure called the endoplasmic reticulum regulates protein folding and recycling of misfolded proteins, a process that is impaired in ALS.
Marka van Blitterswijk, Ph.D., (2013 Fellow) is searching for genes that modify onset and disease presentation of ALS in people with the C9orf72 gene. Supported by The ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter.
Helene Tran, Ph.D., (2012 Fellow) is developing a fly model of the C9orf72 gene mutation. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter and Edmund McCurtain.
Qiang Zhu, Ph.D., (2013 Fellow) is developing a mouse model of the C9orf72 gene mutation.
Tania Gendron, Ph.D., (2009 Fellow) is investigating whether the unusual small proteins (so-called RAN products) seen in C9orf72 ALS may be a useful biomarker for clinical studies.
Amanda Haidet-Phillips, Ph.D., (2011 Fellow) is studying the effects of the ALS gene TDP-43 in stem cells and in mice. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter; The E.F. Wallengren Fund for ALS Research.
Ole Wiskow, Ph.D., (2011 Fellow) is modeling ALS using patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter.
Monica Carrasco, Ph.D., (2006 Fellow) is using iPS cells to model ALS with the TDP-43 gene mutation.
Brandi Davis-Dusenberry, Ph.D., (2012 Fellow) is looking at genome-wide gene expression changes due to ALS and is developing an open database of results. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, and Edmund McCurtain, and the Robert Luongo ALS Fund.
Sandrine Da Cruz, Ph.D., (2007 Fellow) is studying how ALS gene mutations affect the processing of RNA.
Javier Jara, Ph.D., (2010 Fellow) is investigating the process of neuroinflammation in corticospinal motor neurons.
Yang Li, Ph.D., (2013 Fellow) is determining the structure and function of a new RNA binding protein implicated in ALS. Supported by The ALS Association Arizona Chapter.
Dimitry Yudin, Ph.D., (2012 Fellow) is studying the contribution of neurotensin, a neuronal protein, to damage caused by ALS. Supported by The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter and Edmund McCurtain.
Russell McLaughlin, Ph.D., (2013 Fellow) is studying the genes of people with ALS in Ireland to identify new genetic contributors to ALS. Supported by The ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter.
Further details of their work can be found here: