The ALS Association

ALS Association partners with ATA to match Tow Foundation challenge grant to establish ALS mouse model repository at The Jackson Laboratory

November 3, 2010

Researchers seeking ways to treat and cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) will soon have better access to mouse models of the disease. A $315,378 challenge grant from The Leonard and Claire Tow Charitable Trust will enable The Jackson Laboratory, based in Bar Harbor, Maine, to establish a national ALS mouse model repository.

The new grant provides about half the $630,000 required to cover the costs of creating the repository, with the balance of funding to be provided by The ALS Association and its Greater New York Chapter and the ALS Therapy Alliance.

“The ALS Association is very excited to work with The Jackson Laboratory on this important initiative,” said ALS Association Chief Scientist Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D. “The opportunities that have arisen with the discovery of TDP43 and FUS in developing new models for ALS to better understand the disease and develop therapies makes this initiative very timely. Advances in this field rely heavily on collaboration and easy access to tools.”

Creation and rapid distribution of mouse models of ALS is crucial to finding treatments. The Jackson ALS repository will be designed to eliminate or reduce the logistical barriers to scientists’ donating valuable new models of ALS, as well as to ensure the models’ genetic quality control and make them available to the scientific community.

“This repository will acquire new ALS mouse models and rapidly deploy them to the scientific community,” explains Michael E. Hyde, Jackson’s vice president for advancement and external relations. “The Tow Foundation challenge leveraged generous gifts from ATA and ALSA. Together, these three donors will help speed the development of new ALS therapies.”

The new grant is one of several important initiatives that The Tow Foundation has funded to advance ALS research. Clare Tow is an ALS patient, and her husband has become one of the nation’s most passionate advocates for the study of the disease’s causes.

Research in ALS mouse models has focused primarily on mutations in the SOD1 gene. Recent discoveries point to other possible gene culprits, as well as defects in RNA processing proteins, as keys to understanding the causes of the disease. These discoveries offer new hope for therapeutic intervention.

“An ALS repository will be a vital resource for researchers,” said Robert H. Brown, Jr., D.Phil., M.D., University of Massachusetts Medical School of the Department of Neurology chair and director and organizer of the ALS Therapy Alliance. “The Jackson Laboratory is the ideal place to carry out this effort, and the ALS Therapy Alliance is happy to help support it.”

According to Cat Lutz, Ph.D., Jackson’s associate director for GRS Repository and the lead scientist on the grant, a key goal is to standardize the new mouse models, in terms of their genetic background, specific mutations and physiological characteristics.

“ALS mice have been notoriously difficult to work with,” Lutz says, “with different scientists getting different results with the SOD1 mouse. It turns out that a lot of those problems were due to variability in the mice themselves. At The Jackson Laboratory, we spent a lot of time and effort to stabilize the SOD1 mouse lines in terms of genetic background and the mutation itself, and now that there are new genes of interest, we want to ensure that those mouse models are stable too, right from outset.”

Dr. Lutz and other Jackson Laboratory scientists will reach out to the ALS research community to identify the appropriate models for the repository, starting with a Nov. 12 workshop at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, Calif., sponsored by The ALS Association and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The workshop will be held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.  For information, visit http://guest.cvent.com/d/ndqv33/4W.

Dr. Lutz adds, “The ALS research community has really gotten behind the repository concept, and we want to thank The Tow Foundation, The ALS Association and the ALS Therapy Alliance for their support.”

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